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SMAC hosted Two Virtual Conversations on adapting to COVID-19 for artists and the arts community

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In April SMAC held two virtual “check-ins” with area artists, creatives, and individuals dealing with the arts through organizations. Both were filled with open conversation and valuable sharing. On both of these calls SMAC realized what a need there is for artists, creatives, and organizers to have casual sharing opportunities. SMAC would like to help this need by hosting more of these virtual conversations. Mark your calendars for a conversation with organizations on Tuesday, May 12th at 3 pm and individuals on Thursday May 14th at 3 pm . We love hearing from you!

Both of these discussions were led by SMAC Staff, Lisa Bergh (Individual artist and the director for the Hutchinson Center for the Arts ), and Ashley Hanson (Individual artist and director of The Department of Public Transformation and founder of PlaceBase Productions ).

SMAC asked participants to speak about how the pandemic is affecting their situation, and what their immediate needs are and what they think their needs will be six months from now. Groups represented on the call included Pioneer PBS , the Marshall Area Fine Arts Council , The Lake Benton Opera House , The New London Little Theatre , The Barn Theatre in Willmar, The Willmar Area Symphonic Orchestra , The Prairie Arts Continuum in Windom, as well as individual artists Bethany Lacktorin , Michele of DoughpCreations , and Darwin Dyce.

There were so many valuable ideas shared during these meetings but here are just a few highlights!

  • It’s important to stay connected during this time and to keep communicating on how organizations can work together and collaborate to not only lift each other up, but for organizations to also find ways to support individual artists in the region.
  • Continue with your membership and sponsorship drives! Don’t let everything come to stop. Now may even be the time to ramp up the fundraising efforts; there are people and businesses that are feeling financial hardships right now but there are also those who are feeling a lot of sympathy towards non-profits and the arts, motivating them to be very giving and philanthropic towards organizations that are doing good.
  • In terms of organizations that have had to cancel events, consider marketing to ask patrons to redefine that ticket sale as donation, especially already purchased tickets to consider it as a donation instead of a refund. Even if an audience member hasn’t paid yet, considering asking for a donation in the same amount of a ticket if they were planning to attend the event. Explain why that income is important to keep the organization going forward during this time, for future events to even be able to take place. If patrons don’t wish to donate already bought tickets, consider encouraging them to keep the tickets to be honored at a future event instead of issuing a refund. Just make sure your organization is also being understanding and empathetic. Let the patrons know that the money is appreciated and needed, but only if they are in a position to be able to give at this time. A resource that Ashley Hanson shared was the Artful Asker, a Minnesota based artist who has offers free webinars on “Emergency Funding” and how to go about it. One thing Ashley highlighted from this webinar was to have open communication and dialogue with your funders, consider saying something like “We all know this is a really hard time, and we all know we want our cultural institutions to survive this, so what would be a reasonable or respectful request from us?”
  • If your organization has a gift shop, consider how that can be made virtual. Can your organization take pictures or video of items to share on social media or a website? Information can be listed on how to contact, pay, and pick up items. The Marshall Area Arts Council has teamed up with the local library as a pick-up location for items. You may also wish to do individual features on artists who you have in the gift shop and the work they do.
  • If your organization has a gallery, is it possible to move items closer to windows for them to be seen from the outside? How about making a virtual tour of the exhibit items through photos or video? Interactive virtual artists talks can also be done through video meeting services like Zoom and Facebook Live.
  • Lisa Bergh spoke about noticing what’s already happening in your community spontaneously and working with it. The Hutchinson Center for the Arts has big windows, so she loaded the center’s movable walls with the current exhibit-local student artwork- and put them all right up to the windows for passer-by’s to look at. Some chalk art had been done on the ground near the Hutchinson Center for the Arts, so she put Tupperware with chalk outside with a message saying people were free to take some as long as they left some for others. She has also been putting together free “take-home” art kits since their centers “Art Kid Drop in Days” haven’t been able to happen. The kits, exhibit, and chalk have been very popular!
  • Darwin Dyce, an individual artist who also plays music in groups and for organizations, used to visit the local care center and go from room to room with his grandson playing music. Since he can’t do that anymore, he’s coordinated with the activity director to take an ipad from room to room while he does his music for the residents.
  • The Little Theatre in New London has been doing an online fundraiser through live streaming musical acts. They also set very realistic and specific goals that they communicate clearly, for example, listing the expenses of “keeping the lights on” through June can let your audience know exactly what they are paying for and why that specific goal is important.
  • The Marshall Area Fine Arts Council was approached by the city of Marshall to partner in a Social Distancing Photo Contest. Residents of Marshall were invited to take pictures of how the scenery might have changed during this pandemic and send them into the city of Marshall to be shared to an online album in Facebook. The photo with the most “likes” will be displayed at the Marshall Area Fine Arts Council once it is able to open again.
  • The Department of Public Transformation realized that rural arts and cultural workers have a lot of creative ideas for how to connect across social distance already because of their geographical locations, so they put out a call to rural creatives across the county to create a list of creative resources and ideas for creative, compassionate and joyful connection during social distancing. This is an open-source list by all rural artists and it’s available here: https://www.publictransformation.org/covid-19. And remember, this is still an open-source and growing list, so please add your ideas! There is also a link on their page that complies resources that they feel are most relevant to rural artists, since a lot of other resource pages have many resources that focus more specifically to urban areas.
  • Another tip Ashley shared was to set up virtual meetings with past arts groups just to check-in, and then to possibly start to move forward with a new project. For example, convene a meeting with a past cast of a play or artists in a group exhibit. Do a digital happy hour, a sing-along or a reading. Think about how you can provide a space and creative outlet for the artists that you’ve worked with to continue those relationships and let them know you’re there for them. These meetings can help people think more creatively about how to plan for the next phase-maybe how to plan and transform plays or events into a digital space, or to think more creatively about how a new rehearsal structure could look like-as opposed to every individual trying to think through these ideas on their own.
  • Now might be a good time to reach out to artists or other organizations you’ve had on your list to collaborate with! You can start to build relationships and strategize over this time so that when we come out “on the other side” we have strong relationships and are ready to move forward.
  • This is also a time for organizations, if they are able financially, to think about hiring individual artists who might be more digitally experienced to help facilitate meetings or creative activities on-line. This can take some of the burden off hosting for the organizations while channeling resources into the pockets of individual artists who might need the work right now.
  • SMAC offers a shared virtual arts calendar: remember, if your organization OR you as an individual artist are doing virtual arts events, SMAC wants to know about them! Share the details with us (info@swmnarts.org) so we can get the information on our online calendar. And if you aren’t doing events, be sure to check out the entertainment and resources that are available to you through the calendar as well!
  • Lisa Bergh stressed how important staying visible is right now. Even though people might not be able to come into your center, or go to your event, make sure that they don’t forget about you. Keep active on social media and connect with other organizations and artists. Continue the work and don’t just “shut down” until we can be back to “normal”. Lisa said, “I am an artist too, and I think that in times of restriction-a lot of rules, a lot of restraint-is when the real problem solving starts.”

Our executive director, Nicole DeBoer, closed with explaining that SMAC is expected to take a cut to our budget as well, somewhere between 20-40%. This is because we are largely funded by state sales tax, which will go down as a result of the economy during this pandemic. Changes will have to be made in our organization and in our grants to deal with this reality. However, we will not be suspending a majority of our programs. We have been very active in seeking and listening to our constituents on how to proceed with these changes. Our Individual Artists grants will not be affected by the budget cuts , as that generous funding comes from the McKnight Foundation , which is not linked to sales tax.

We also want to let you know that we still plan to hold our Arts Organization Summit this summer, only that it will be virtual! The theme will be on accessibility. Look for future social media posts, our website and emails for more information!

SMAC will continue to host casual, virtual check in’s for organizations dealing with the arts and with individual artists and creatives. You are invited to join us for our next sessions:

  • Organizations dealing with the arts: Tuesday, May 12 @ 3 pm
  • Individual Artists & Creatives: Thursday, May 14 @ 3 pm

For more details on participating in these meetings, click here .

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