How the arts add beauty and richness to Elkhart County communities

NAPPANEE — What happens when you put 53 community-minded and creative people in one room?

Tons of great ideas and a strong likelihood that an amazing and beautiful arts project might be the result.

On Thursday, Feb. 7, Vibrant Communities organizers convened leaders from all over Elkhart County at the Nappanee Center to talk about the arts and how much it contributes to the richness and diversity of living here.

The meeting was the third in the series of Community Champions Roundtables in which representatives of arts, business and commerce, tourism and hospitality, and government organizations assemble for in-depth conversation about quality of place.

Since the Vibrant Communities movement launched in January 2016, Goshen, Nappanee and Middlebury have started arts councils, joining the expanding roster of strong and thriving arts organizations.

The Community Champions Roundtable discussion on the arts and placemaking attracted 53 attendees on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019, to the Nappanee Center.

Steve Gruber of the Elkhart Arts Alliance says that commerce around the arts “adds enormously to the economy. It’s not a luxury, but a driver (of economic activity).”

Gruber cited the success of Premier Arts in training the artists of the future while also offering classes and staging musicals that generate about 25 percent of the revenues collected by the Lerner Theatre in Elkhart.

Jeff Stillson, who started the Nappanee Arts Council in 2018, said, “Any time you see art, it’s an event.”

The Nappanee Arts Council is the driving force behind a rotating series of public art exhibitions in downtown Nappanee, starting in 2018 with Flower Gardens Art in Bloom and continuing in 2019 with Junkyard Dogs.

Zach Tate, co-founder of Goshen Youth Arts, said opportunities for young artists to learn and practice their craft go far beyond preparing them for potential careers in artistic fields. Even if a student does not start a career in the arts, art education nurtures outside-the-box thinking and creativity that can help them in other careers, said Tate.

Participants in the Community Champions Roundtable on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019, discuss potential communitywide arts projects in Elkhart County. After dividing into groups, the participants proposed nine ideas ranging from a community mosaic to filling unused billboards with public art.

The session concluded with a brainstorming exercise in which each participate came up with three ideas for arts projects, then broke into groups consisting of similar ideas. Those groups then pitched their idea for a countywide arts project.

The ideas presented were:

  • Commission public art in all parts of the county, not just in downtown areas.
  • An arts event that occurs in each city and town at the same time.
  • An arts event with a focus on hands-on activities and creating your own art.
  • An event that “mobilizes creativity,” making art throughout the community, then bringing it together to create a larger, cohesive piece.
  • Create public art in neighborhoods, then offering tours of each piece.
  • Filling vacant and unused billboards with art.
  • Instituting an “arts day” in which students can learn more about careers in the arts and career pathways for those jobs.
  • Creating wearable and/or touchable art for the community.
  • Community paint-by-the-numbers to create a mosaic of community art.

Stay tuned on the next steps from these artsy ideas.

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