This week, National Arts Strategies announced: Jessica Gelter, Executive Director of Arts Alive! and Brattleboro resident, is one of 25 individuals chosen to be a Creative Communities Fellow, part of the New England cohort. This is a 6-month program that will deepen arts leaders’ connections across the New England states, and deliver training and project support to develop programming. National Arts Strategies is a non-profit organization whose mission is to build and support a diverse community of cultural leaders, who drive inspiring change for the future.
Gelter’s fellowship project proposes to increase access to the arts in rural southwest New Hampshire.
The region has already seen significant infrastructure development from construction of performing venues, library expansion, investment in community calendars, and expanded regional marketing. There have also been funding investments in arts access from national foundations across the region to a wide selection of arts & culture nonprofits. And yet, from anecdotal interviews with presenting organizations, and feedback from infrastructure project leadership, the need to provide equity and accessibility to all populations has come up as a challenge.
Gelter’s project seeks to break down barriers that prevent arts access while concurrently supporting the “on-the-ground” community engagement work already being done by arts organizations and communities investing in accessible programming and outreach.
“It’s not just about how we can leverage creative economy to enhance our quality of life,” says Gelter, “participation and exposure to the arts can do so much more. They help individuals build social capital, empathy, self-actualization, are a key tool in mental health wellness, and can even aid in the addiction recovery process. We need to ensure that everyone can access it.”
Through community outreach in 2018 Arts Alive discovered that the primary barrier to arts access is awareness. Working with community members, and a team of graphic design students at Keene State College, Arts Alive! launched “the arts are here” marketing campaign to increase arts awareness. The campaign focused on web-based communications and it was successful in reaching many but it became clear to Gelter that “lots of folks in our community got left behind, in part because they lack internet connectivity.”
The Arts Alive! strategic plan identifies increasing arts access as a key goal. Gelter sees the fellowship as providing a specific time, a platform, and a connection to tools and resources, allowing her to dedicate attention to this strategic goal of Arts Alive!.
NAS strengthens the arts and culture sector by creating meaningful and useful educational experiences for leaders at all levels of the ecosystem – from boards and CEOs to entrepreneurs and artists – giving them the tools, connections and support to transform their leadership, their organizations and their communities. Over a 30-year history, the organization has worked with thousands of people to build management and leadership capacities. Their model is to build connections that have a high level of trust and that are both deep and broad, working closely with individual communities and connecting local leaders with a broad and diverse network of likely and unlikely allies from across the globe.
Arts Alive! Board co-chair Eric Russell adds, “The key benefit to our community will be to have direct access to leaders in the arts support field, and to have creative and experienced input from a new and diverse set of minds from around the country leading the way in best practices to support the arts and communities.”