Things of beauty: Elkhart County Arts Alliance forms to nurture artists, connect arts groups

By March 24, 2017Uncategorized

Elkhart County is more focused on the arts than ever before.

The newly-founded Elkhart County Arts Alliance was formed partly in response to conversations during the Vibrant Communities Summit on the Future held in June 2016.  The non-profit group was also created to formalize, strengthen and continue grassroots arts programming efforts that have been underway for the past few years.

The organization, led by Steve Gruber, is taking what works and adding more focus on art in the public realm. Under the aegis of the Arts Alliance, the Elkhart ArtWalk, begun in 2011, is now a monthly event (up from quarterly in previous years).

The arts represent a significant portion of the Vibrant Communities Action Agenda.

“Consistent monthly programming is what we’re after.  The public has asked for more frequent ArtWalks and we’ve responded, ” adds Gruber. Also added are more frequent music performances — especially for rising local talent that merits building an audience, which adds to nightlife options. A push for more gallery shows to nurture local artists is also part of the implementation plan.

The street-level center for these activities is Arts on Main, which was established in 2014. Arts on Main is increasing its event roster to showcase rising local artistic and musical talent and provide a forum for creative expression (e.g., WordPlay, a free monthly poetry/spoken word experience in which the public can take part or just enjoy the oration). Arts on Main also serves as a community gallery that hosts shows and presentations of local arts organizations such as Northern Indiana Artists, the Elkhart Art League and the Michiana Pottery Tour.

Establishing a cooperative countywide network of art and music interests (for groups, organizations and individuals) is another aim of the Elkhart County Arts Alliance.  Often groups and individuals are unaware of similar interests or available opportunities.  An established network is better able to conceive and implement art and music initiatives and to attract funding by demonstrating broader collaboration.

The Elkhart County Arts Alliance has co-opted Abstract Alley, which was developed near 215 S. Main St., Elkhart, by Pillars of Elkhart. Three giant steel frames host rotating abstract murals, in a landscaped, well-lit pedestrian alleyway with permanent seating. The concept of creating more public art that is temporary and movable is a core tenet of the Elkhart Arts Alliance. An RFP for three mural artists has been created.

Goshen’s Downtown Plan 2015 (generated through public input by the Goshen Chamber of Commerce) identifies arts and culture as a civic priority, characterized by the ambitious Goshen Theatre project and evident in the guilds and other creative forces that help brand Goshen as “artsy.” The Mayor’s Arts Council received combined funding of $50,000 per year for three years from the Community Foundation of Elkhart County and the Elkhart County Convention & Visitors Bureau to create a more formalized Live/ Work/ Play arts network and to engender greater arts commerce within the city of Goshen.

Amy Worsham was recently hired to be the city arts coordinator. She will be working on a consulting basis to develop a monthly Goshen Art Market and to create a custom database of artists and creative talent.

Both efforts are in their infancy. The “toddler stage” will contemplate ways to work cooperatively, to mesh Goshen’s array of creative talent with Elkhart’s larger, more affluent consumer market.  There are six retail art galleries in Elkhart, whereas Goshen has two. Defining ways to complement the two distinct markets is another charge of the Elkhart County Arts Alliance.

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