Collaborating makes for great IDEAS

In 2010 we launched an arts and culture initiative for audience development and community engagement. Now, four years and $1.1 million later, the fruits of our “what if” moment have emerged. Learn More »

In 2010 the Gifford Foundation asked a question: “what if we were able to reverse the trend of shrinking arts and culture audiences by dedicating significant resources to innovative approaches and cooperative endeavors?” We found the right implementer in Surale Phillips, a nationally known arts marketing consultant, who helped us design the IDEAS Collaborative (Initiative to Develop and Engage Audiences in Syracuse). We found the right partners when five leading funders in our community joined us in the effort, with their ideas, thoughtfulness, time and dollars. And most importantly we discovered the exciting possibilities of our extraordinarily active arts, culture and heritage organizations who for the first time shared their patron data so we could obtain a clear picture of current and potential audiences.

The goal of IDEAS is to strengthen arts, culture, and heritage organizations and the creative sector in Onondaga County through engagement strategies that will increase participation, identify new audience market segments, and uncover opportunities for cooperative activity and resource sharing. The Gifford Foundation designed the program with Surale Phillips and initially managed the project as it grew. In addition to Gifford, the funding partners are the Allyn Foundation, the Central New York Community Foundation, the Dorothy and Marshall M. Reisman Foundation, the John Ben Snow Foundation and the Trust for Cultural Resources of Onondaga County. In 2012 CNY Arts, formerly the Cultural Resources Council, joined the coalition of funders and leveraged additional funds through grants from the CNY Regional Economic Development Council and the New York State Council on the Arts – and then assumed full project management.

The project started with a geo-demographic marketing analysis and community assessment conducted by Surale Phillips during 2010. A total of 43 arts/culture/heritage organizations shared patron data for the analysis, and 3,000 community members joined in focus groups and surveying to help us understand our community relationship with arts and culture. The results indicated strong community support yet also uncovered some potential for audience growth and community/organizational partnerships. The report recommended building the capacity of our local arts council, CNY Arts; providing individual reports, technical assistance and grants for organizations to develop new marketing and artistic strategies; and implementing a community-wide marketing system, in particular a robust events calendar.

All of these, we are proud to say, have come to pass. CNY Arts has expanded its staff and resources and is now recognized by the state as the hub of regional arts planning and support. With IDEAS support they provide educational programs and scholarships to their member organizations, building a learning community where organizations honestly reflect on successes and failures. During 2011 participating IDEAS organizations received specialized marketing reports and with this data developed or expanded upon artistic and marketing projects. The IDEAS Implementation Fund has provided, to date, 20 grants benefitting 27 organizations for a total of just over $250,000. These grants, ranging in size from $5,000 to $20,000, made possible such diverse activities as micro-documentaries, shared production and marketing services, a unique community-wide arts festival and new artistic partnerships, among many others. Finally launched a year ago and has exceeded expectations as an important source of information on the arts and cultural scene in Central New York. Such a calendar has been sought after for years and it took some good “IDEAS” to make it possible.

The IDEAS Collaborative theory of change is grounded in the belief that arts and culture are not separate from the community’s overall health but an integral part of it – a vibrant arts and cultural sector is not a community luxury, but a necessity. We believe that a vital community is engaged in all levels of creative engagement, from making to participating and supporting, and this engagement positively ensures growth in quality of life, economic opportunity, education, tourism and civic life. This vision has come to life over the past four years, thanks to the combined efforts and optimism of an extraordinary group of people and organizations – and will continue to become a reality as the Engage CNY cultural plan develops steam.

Read more about CNY Arts, its turnaround, and the path towards regional cultural planning in this guest post from Stephen Butler.

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