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What Makes a Healthy Art Community?

Lately I have been thinking a lot about what local artists need. Over the last year we  on the mnartists.org team have been diligently planning for the new mnartists.org website.  During the discovery phase of the site rebuild, we often returned to the question that launched the mnartists project in the first place, back in […]

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Lately I have been thinking a lot about what local artists need. Over the last year we  on the mnartists.org team have been diligently planning for the new mnartists.org website.  During the discovery phase of the site rebuild, we often returned to the question that launched the mnartists project in the first place, back in 1999: What do artists need to survive and prosper in our community?

This week an article by l’étoile arts columnist Nathaniel Smith (reprinted today on mnartists.org) raised similar questions about what is needed to sustain a healthy cultural community and, specifically, which of those things truly sustain artists.  Smith quotes  The Cool School, a film about LA’s influential Ferus Gallery, and the five things founder Walter Hopps cites as necessary ingredients for a healthy art city:

1: Artists to make the work
2: Galleries to support it
3: Critics to celebrate it
4:  Museums to establish it
5: and collectors to buy it

Smith points out in his piece that Minnesota is blessed to have the requisite artists and museums in abundance.  Certainly, the nearly 20,000 members of mnartists.org provide compelling evidence of the volume, diversity and passion of the artists in Minnesota. I am not going to reiterate all of Smith’s  assessments as to the needs of the community. You should read the full piece yourself: his essay raises several direct points of critique and debate related to the list above in relation to aspects of the current local arts support structure.

But what about a creative community’s other needs?  What do you see that is missing from Hopps’s admittedly visual arts-slanted list?  Or, perhaps this list is a completely outdated model? If so, what elements for a healthy arts community would you substitute instead?

Midwesterners are quick to praise and support Minnesota’s arts scene, which can be a strength, but knee-jerk self-congratulations lead to complacency and unrealized potential. We don’t want to live in a good art community, we want to have a hand in making an exceptional art community. We want an art community with strong local support and lively dialog that is not provincial but instead nationally, even internationally relevant.

So, let’s continue this conversation and separate needs from desires. Let’s have open discussion about what is working and what isn’t.  There are the obvious things that would sure help: like more financial support for individual artists, cultivating actively engaged patrons of the arts and involved audiences; cheap space and informed, lively critical response for artists. What’s important to you? What are some more specific, feasible things that we are overlooking as we think about the vitality of our state’s arts and cultural scenes?

Now, its your turn.  What do you think?