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Photo credit: Ackerman and Gruber

Cultivating strong foundations for arts organizations in Minnesota

Arts organizations are an essential part of a healthy, vibrant state, but ensuring longevity and growth can be challenging. Arts Midwest’s ArtsLab program gives arts nonprofits the tools they need to thrive, adding to the vitality of communities across Minnesota.

ArtsLab began in 1999 as a collaboration between Mardag Foundation and five other funders that saw a need to address capacity building among small and mid-sized arts nonprofits. “Frequently, smaller arts organizations don’t have access to the same funding opportunities that larger organizations do. However, they are often a seedbed for new ideas in the arts sector and an important part of the community’s fabric,” said Sharon Rodning Bash, ArtsLab program director.

Nonprofits participating in ArtsLab commit to bringing key leadership staff, board members and artists together for a series of in-depth sessions and conversations. The ArtsLab model focuses on four cornerstones of healthy organizations: Artistic mission and programs, constituencies and relationships, finance and infrastructure and leadership and culture.

Man listening

Widespread Reach

More than 600 leaders from 106 organizations have participated in ArtsLab. By honing their business model and learning to tell their story, many participating organizations experience growth. Past cohort members have reported successes from increased revenue and success with high profile grants like Knight Arts Challenge and ArtPlace to building stronger leadership and deeper relationships to their community.

“There’s now a coalition of theaters serving communities of color in the Twin Cities that formed from an ArtsLab cohort. Having a collective grow outside our program shows the positive impact these sessions can have,” said Rodning Bash.

ArtsLab brings in knowledge experts for each focus area, ensuring participants receive comprehensive training at all levels. Session diversity avoids creating “cookie cutter” approach to problem solving, allowing ArtsLab to meet participants where they are at. Peer-learning and collaboration opportunities with fellow cohort members add to the experience.

One of ArtsLab’s 2015 cohorts connected 10 regional orchestras from across Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. Past cohorts have brought together organizations across rural and urban geography, across disciplines or within a common disciplinary interest.

“So often in life we may feel isolated or focused on divisive issues. It’s frequently an arts organization that becomes a place where people can gather and express themselves. The arts gather people in a positive and productive way. That’s why having a stable arts presence is so important” said Rodning Bash.