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Everyone, everyday, everywhere

Arts United’s new campaign hopes to heighten its public profile

By Michael Summers

michael_summers@fortwaynereader.com

Fort Wayne Reader

2008-02-04


If you’ve ever enjoyed a Philharmonic concert, a Civic Theater performance, or checked out a “hot buzz” independent film at the Cinema Center, you have Arts United to partially thank for that.

The quick version: Arts United is a private, non-profit organization that helps fund and support various art organizations in Fort Wayne. They provide partial funding for 10 member groups — including the Fort Wayne Ballet, the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, and the Fort Wayne Museum of Art — and additional support for dozens of other associate and affiliate members such as the African-American Historical Society and Museum, Fort Wayne’s Children’s Choir, and the University of St. Francis School of Creative Arts.

The organization has been around since 1955; it’s the third oldest arts organization of its kind in the country (modeled after similar umbrella organizations in Louisville and Cincinnati). In addition to fund raising, Arts United acquires grants, provides technical and financial assistance for its arts organizations, owns and operates a number of facilities for use by non-profit arts groups… “We provide group insurance, file 990s, record payroll…” says Melinda Perry, Development and Visibility Officer at Arts United. “Maybe not exciting things to talk about, but it’s important so these groups can focus on their art.”

Catherine Lee, who has been the director of the 30-year-old Cinema Center since 1993, says Arts United has been crucial to the continued success of the organization. Arts United owns the building in which the theater is located, sharing the space with Art Link gallery, the Fort Wayne Dance Collective and ARCH. “Day-to-day, they provide a broad range of support services that allow us to concentrate on movies,” Lee says. “So we get to be an arts organization, and they help us with building and maintenance issues, funding issues, and operating support, and operating support is the most generous kind of support an arts organization can get.”

“I don’t want to sound all gooey,” Lee adds. “But we have all this stuff we need to worry about and do to make this thing swim. There are so many things that pop up that, instead of having to worry and fret about them, I know I have really reliable support at the other end of the telephone.”

Fort Wayne boasts a lot of arts institutions for a community its size, and one of the reasons it’s able to do so is the support of Arts United. Yet despite that distinguished history and the extensive support, there’s still a little bit of confusion about the organization and its purpose among the general public. Actually, sometimes there’s more than just a bit of confusion. “Just last week, I got a call asking if we sold paintbrushes,” laughs Perry. “They thought we were United Art and Education. It happens a lot.”

Of course, being confused with the art supply store on Clinton is a small example, but it is somewhat indicative of the general perception of the organization. It’s with the aim of increasing its public profile that Arts United has its latest annual fund drive, an ambitious campaign to show how the arts plays a part in a community and the people who live there.

Appropriately enough, the theme of the campaign is Everyone, Everyday, Everywhere. Jim Sparrow, Executive Director of Arts United, says that the organization has always emphasized how the arts play an essential role in a community by encouraging economic development and offering educational opportunities. But with the Everyman campaign, Arts United wants to show exactly how the arts are essential part of everyday life. “This campaign shows all the things we support directly and indirectly and all the ways that arts are a part of the community,” Sparrow explains. “Rather than trying to sell elements where people have a tough time putting the pieces together, this campaign is tangible. I think it can relate to everybody on every level.”

Sparrow continues: “When you look at a lot of the organizations people traditionally think of when they think of the arts — the Philharmonic, the ballet, the art museum, maybe the History Center — there is a sense that they’re not terribly accessible. While I don’t think that’s true, this campaign connects the dots between those institutions and other things we support directly and indirectly which are very accessible. Even if people don’t believe that’s where their interest lies, there are a lot of other things that they are involved in or could be involved in.”

Melinda Perry cites a recent presentation she made at Fort Wayne Metals, where she asked a crowd of a hundred people if they considered themselves artistic, or if they thought the arts played a daily role in their lives. No one responded, until Perry pointed out that a classic rock radio station played on the floor everyday while people worked on the assembly line. “Those musicians were trained to play instruments, they got exposed to something, they worked together, they created art,” Perry says.

“At its purest level, the arts are really a manifestation of people’s creativity their identity,” Sparrow adds. “The more refined you get, the more discipline is involved, but everyone is a creative individual, and everyone has expression that they would like to carry forth in their job and their life. I think the arts do two things: they allow for that expression, and they also allow people to dream and create.”

Sparrow is absolutely right, or course, and if the things he cites were the only reasons a vibrant arts community is good for a city it would be good enough for most. But for the contingent out there thinking “okay, creativity is good, inspiration is good… but what’s the bottom line?”, the folks at Arts United are refreshingly specific on how the arts can help spur economic development and education. Studies show how exposure to the arts improves the quality of education in a community, and the organizations Arts United supports by taking their programs into the schools and bringing the schools to their facilities augment education in a way that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. As far as economic development goes, a 1997 study shows that the institutions that are Arts United members contributed over 16 million dollars annually to the local economy and supported nearly 900 full-time jobs.

The arts also bring money to town; people are much more likely to come to Fort Wayne, buy tickets, eat at a restaurant, etc. if there are arts activities that they can go to. And there are other advantages to being a city that a variety of types of people want to be associated with. “You also look at it from the standpoint of being an economic driver for other people who want to do business here,” Jim Sparrow says. “Communities that are interesting, communities that provide more than just cheap lots for building Wal-Marts, usually have creative people, people who are going to be doing things to create and sustain more jobs. They’re not always ‘artist people,’ but they like to be around creative, vibrant things. They do interesting things and see possibilities.”

The Everyone Everyday, Everywhere campaign, in addition to being an ambitions public relations effort, also serves as Arts United’s annual fund drive. Here, too, Arts United is trying something a little different. In previous years, the find drive was marked by an elaborate kick-off party, a far cry from Arts United’s first fund-raising effort 50 odd years ago, which consisted of a bus load of people going door-to-door. Though this year’s goal is more ambitious ($1.5 million), it takes a cue from those earlier, more “grass roots” efforts. Arts United took a little bit of a hit several years ago when many of the corporations that they counted for financial support left Fort Wayne. Though the organization has been able to rebuild some of that support, Sparrow says they realize they need to look at other avenues — namely, individual donors — if they are going to grow. “We know that for us to be successful we’re going to have to get more gifts from more people,” Sparrow says. “They don’t have to be large gifts, but they need to be consistent gifts.” Gifts go to benefit more than 80 arts and cultural organizations Arts United supports in northeast Indiana; donations of $50 entitles the donor to a 2008 Arts United Arts Card (which includes 11 special offers).

Arts United is planning several special events in upcoming months to coincide with the Everyone, Everyday, Everywhere campaign, including the 1st annual Bravo Breakfast for the Arts and the 2nd annual Arts Crawl in April and May respectively.

For more information on Arts United, groups and organizations supported by Arts United or any of these events, please visit www.artsunited.org.

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