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Community leaders unveiled a plan for arts and culture in central Iowa, coined the Regional Cultural Assessment, on Wednesday. The plan includes four initiatives to be considered top priority in moving forward the arts and culture sector. Wochit

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Izaah Knox wants more art in his neighborhood.

The newly appointed executive director of Urban Dreams and a River Bend resident spent three years working downtown at Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield, an office that sits a stone’s throw away from the celebrated Pappajohn Sculpture Park in Des Moines’ Western Gateway district.

Now, with his morning commute free of passing downtown’s welcoming views, he sees the disparity in public art the city offers.

“Access to art really drops off the further you get away from downtown,” Knox said. “Literally, the art we have in our neighborhood is trash in wire bins.”

On Wednesday, a nine-member arts and culture steering committee, including Knox, unveiled the Regional Cultural Assessment: a plan created to outline ways to strengthen central Iowa's arts sector.

Collecting information from an estimated 800 Iowans through surveys, interviews and group discussions, the assessment explains four key initiatives to be considered top arts and cultural priority for the region moving forward.

The initiatives:

  • Every day, everywhere art: Create spontaneous artistic and cultural connections in new ways.
  • Strengthen the creative economy: Develop the talent and skillset of local artists.
  • Cultural tapestry: support the arts as diverse, accessible, inclusive and equitable throughout central Iowa.
  • Youth connections: Ensure youth in the region have access to an array of cultural experiences.

Bravo of Greater Des Moines, a local nonprofit support organization, funded the 15- month, $85,000 project.

“Central Iowa already has a strong arts and culture sector,” said Sally Dix, Bravo executive director. “What we hoped to find out what was how can we leverage that strong foundation and build on that strong foundation to move forward fastest toward existing regional goals. … to align the sector with achieving priorities in some clear and defined ways so that we can move forward together.”

The assessment acts as the cultural branch of Capital Crossroads 2.0, a blueprint launched in 2012 and re-visited earlier this year that outlines ideas for driving quality of life and economic development in the region. The arts and culture sector created about $185 million in economic activity in 2015, according to a report released earlier this year by Americans for the Arts. 

More: Downtown sports stadium part of growing vision for central Iowa

Drake University president Earl "Marty" Martin acted as committee chair for the assessment. Martin said he decided to take this role partly because of the school’s ambition to attract the best students and employees possible to complement the city’s desire to drive forward quality of life and economic impact.

“Part of what we’re presenting is not just this campus but greater Des Moines, and what everyone is looking for these days — if they didn’t in the past — is the amenities, the culture,” Martin said.

Everyday, everywhere art

The plan leads with the need for cultural experiences that thrive on spontaneity; events that take place in new and unexpected places and don’t require purchasing a ticket in advance.

Building on programs such as the public piano project City Sounds and the public art DART bus, these experiences could include a pop-up concert during lunch, a dance performance for students after school or chalk murals on bicycle trails.

The goal, Dix explained, is to bring serendipitous, artistic moments into the daily “path” of a central Iowan — especially the Iowan who doesn’t experience Sculpture Garden-level art in a typical commute.

“There’s a lot of great things happening in downtown and (that’s) been very intentional,” she continued. “We need to make sure those experiences are brought outside the central city.”

More: Arts and culture in Des Moines are 'big business'

Strengthen the creative economy

Self-sustaining artists and entrepreneurs help create a “more vibrant and liveable region,” the plan says. This happens by making sure artists and creative entrepreneurs have the educational, technical and financial tools they need to be sustainable, Dix said.

This initiative does not, however, equal dolling out unlimited funds to the starving artist.

“This is about what can be done to provide additional support in a way that is sustainable,” said Martin. “This doesn’t imagine itself as a bucket of funds that are dispersed to artists. It’s imagined as some infrastructure, advice, counsel (and) training that enables them to be as economically successful as the market allows them to be.”

Cultural tapestry

Creating a “cultural tapestry,” the plan says, includes encouraging the region to participate in events, festivals and organizations led by immigrant groups and communities of color. Saying many existing cultural organizations are uncoordinated in offering diverse programming, it insists that diversity barriers to the arts are acknowledged and removed.

It was an initiative, as Dix described, that “came out loud and clear” in the findings.

“By creating this as a priority, we help everybody have that conversation … (and) figure out how to be more inclusive across the board,” Dix said. “Arts and culture are uniquely positioned to do that. It’s a way of coming together to celebrate differences.”

Art needs to be more equally experienced throughout the region, Knox said. This initiative is “absolutely” the result of multiple cultural voices uniting to discuss what can be done better, he said

“People always have good intentions (when) bringing art. But is it equitable art? I think this process has really uncovered that,” Knox said.

More: Things to do in Des Moines: Best entertainment options in central Iowa

Youth connections

Last listed in the plan is the need to continually increase recreational and educational youth exposure to the arts, including increasing art programs that “meets children … where they are physically, developmentally and culturally.”

Albeit through a choir performance or elementary school play, experiencing art with children is how many adults are exposed, Martin said.  

“That’s telling,” he said. “How do we leverage that, expand upon it to even bring more experience of the arts to youth and others?”

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Future plans

Organizations in cities such as Denver, Kansas City and Nashville all previously published cultural plans. Denver’s plan, “Imagine 2020,” debuted in 2014 and featured goals, similar to Des Moines, like increasing daily art and building business through local talent.

Creating a cultural plan is not uncommon in local arts sectors, said Denver's deputy director of arts and venues, Ginger White. It’s in the implementation of the plan where challenges unfold.

"(There) should be a support group for the next steps,” White said. “Like any plan of any sort, the environment changes.”

Des Moines organizers have moved toward the next steps. A total $115,000 has been raised by the steering committee and Bravo to create pilot programs for the four initiatives, two of which have started planning: three to five everyday, everywhere art events curated by Bravo and a Drake-led student group tasked with studying how to strengthen the creative economy.

“We didn't want this plan to lead to a lot more plans,” Dix said. “We wanted to do some things and get out there.”

Read the full assessment summary at centraliowarca.org. 

The regional cultural assessment steering committee 

Marty Martin, president, Drake University 
Pamela Bass-Bookey, president, Temple for Performing Arts LLC
Jay Byers, CEO, Greater Des Moines Partnership
Tim Heaston, vice president & chief financial officer, ITA Group
Myrna Johnson, executive director, Iowa Public Radio
Izaah Knox, executive director, Urban Dreams
Sharon Krause, owner, Dalla Terra Ranch
Jeff Russell, president and CEO, Delta Dental of Iowa
Brian Waller, president, Technology Association of Iowa

More: Editorial: Capital Crossroads' wish list requires your work

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About Capital Crossroads

Capital Crossroads is a collaborative effort between the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines, the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Greater Des Moines Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Greater Des Moines Partnership, Prairie Meadows and the United Way of Central Iowa. It centers around 10 areas of planning, including regional governance, natural and physical capital and business expansion. They build on studies and ideas already in progress in the region. Cities are not required to follow the projects laid out in Capital Crossroads, but are encouraged to use it as a guide. 

 

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