This week, What’s Working is taking a trip to Grand Rapids to focus on the “What’s Your Art?” campaign. Many of us are familiar with the annual ArtPrize event held each fall in Grand Rapids, but there are many other art events taking place in the city throughout the year. The What’s Your Art? campaign aims to raise awareness of the many arts-based events held year-round in the Grand Rapids area.
Caroline Older is the Executive Director of the Arts Council of Greater Grand Rapids, and she is overseeing the “What’s Your Art?” campaign. She says What’s Your Art is focused on supporting the culture of art in Grand Rapids more than any one specific event.
“The goal is a long-term goal, not a short-term answer. The impetus behind the What’s Your Art campaign came in the fall of 2008, when we all know the stock market tanked. It was a very tough time for lots of non-profit organizations, and the foundations in our area were looking at ways to try and help support arts organizations. And what we wanted to do was raise awareness about how incredibly rich this region is with its arts and cultural organizations. And we’re so thrilled that ArtPrize takes place, and we wanted to leverage the excitement that ArtPrize brings to the arts for the other forty-nine weeks of the year when ArtPrize isn’t taking place.”
Older says that, while What’s Your Art is still in its startup phase, there have been a number of factors that have contributed to the campaign’s success thus far.
“When we started it, we were very much hoping to help organizations drive some ticket sales. And who knew at that time that websites such as Groupon or, I think it’s LivingSocial, would be developed and be so successful at marketing last-minute ticket deals. And lots of arts organizations have ended up using those.”
Although What’s Your Art is a work in progress, Older says the campaign is developing ways of measuring its success as it evolves.
“In terms of measuring the success, we’re looking at how many people we have reading our e-newsletter which is growing exponentially each month. We have Facebook followers and we’re looking at how many additional Facebook followers we get each month, and the same thing for Twitter. And then of course we’re measuring how many visitors we get to the website, but, as I said, it’s all a work in progress. We’re very excited about the support that we’ve received from the foundations in town, particularly the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, in helping us with marketing and public relations needs in regards to this effort.”
Older says technology and social networks have proven themselves as effective ways to raise awareness about the arts. But she says people sometimes underestimate the various benefits a healthy art culture can have for a local community.
“I think what we all are aware of, and what we’re hoping to bring more attention to, is that our arts are not only critical to our quality of life here in the greater Grand Rapids area, but they’re also critical to a robust economy. Right now the Arts Council, for example, has 78 arts and cultural organizations who are members. That’s a huge number, and my guess is that the average resident of Grand Rapids doesn’t know that there are that many resources for arts and cultural events in our region.”
Maintaining a healthy art culture is a crucial part of Michigan's future, says Older, adding that the vibrancy of our cities depends on how much we value the art and culture they contribute to our region.
“All of us are looking at ways to improve our economies right now. And, you know, I would say that we all need to focus on the importance of the arts to our communities. They help us attract young professionals. They help us retain talent. And those are very important. If we lose our arts and cultural organizations, our cities are not as vibrant, and we need vibrant, exciting cities to ensure that we have growing populations. So I think bringing to the forefront in any area what you’re doing on the cultural front is really important.”
Eliot Johnson – Michigan Radio Newsroom