New Tool

August 31, 2009

I’ve written before about economic development strategies aimed at small business.  Micro-enterprises are the backbone of many economies, especially in neighborhoods and rural areas.  The arts, local foods and other emerging “industry clusters” are starting to be recognized as viable economic engines, as well they should.

Recently, a new tool has emerged that may prove a useful addition to the community developer’s tool belt.  Consider a marriage between a Community Foundation and economic development organization.

Wisconsin has many excellent Community Foundations, and they come in various shapes and sizes.  In a nutshell, these organizations help invest local donations to earn the best possible return.  Communities can then grant proceeds while never touching the principal.  For years, much good charitable work has been funded through Community Foundations, but bolstering business development is not all that common in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin’s “Strengthening Rural Families” policy team saw an opportunity there and identified community philanthropy as a growing opportunity for rural areas to maintain and grow local wealth and to put that wealth to use in enhancing the local economy.

Recently leaders of two areas in Wisconsin met to study how Community Foundations and local funds can target resources to spur local economic development.   Wisconsin Rural Partners, a statewide non-profit organization that works to build networks, leadership and voice for rural areas of our state, brought Don Macke of the Rural Policy Research Institute (RURPI) to Wisconsin to work with these groups.

Don is an old hand at many things that fall under the “community development” umbrella and is fluent in both the Community Foundation and economic development aspects of the equation.  The organizations he works with are worth some study.  The RUPRI Center for Rural Entrepreneurship is a focal point for efforts to stimulate and support private and public entrepreneurship development in communities throughout rural America.

Hometown Competitiveness is a partnership between the Nebraska Community Foundation, RUPRI and the Heartland center for Leadership Development.  The program provides a long-term approach to community sustainability through four interrelated strategies: Developing Leadership; Energizing Entrepreneurs, Engaging Youth and Charitable Giving.

Urban as well as rural leaders can benefit from some of the strategies and models these organizations offer.

Back in Wisconsin, the “Northwoods” region team includes a diverse group of University of Wisconsin Extension agents, business leaders, and the Northwoods NiiJii Enterprise Community, a unique and highly effective community development corporation.  (NiiJii is a partnership between the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin and the Sokaogon Chippewa Community of Mole Lake, together with eight municipal partners in northern Wisconsin.)

The team from Crawford County got an early start and is off and running.  Less than a year old they have aligned with the Community Foundation of Southern Wisconsin to start a county-wide fund.  A board of the county’s shakers and movers was formed, and, in short order, met a challenge grant from an anonymous donor.  Recently they gave $5,000 in grants for very nifty purposes, and these give a good indication of what this “marriage” is all about:

  • A feasibility study for a community commercial grade kitchen to be used by local food producers to help get their products to market;
  • Coupons for food pantry clients in Gays Mills, Ferryville and Prairie du Chien to be used for locally grown fresh produce sold at Farmers Markets ;
  • Kickapoo River log jam clean-up project to help promote tourism.

There are a number of advantages to adding this new tool to a community’s resource chest.  Oftentimes the endowment is invested through local institutions, which helps strengthen the entire community and endowments are ideal for situations where you’re in it for the long haul.  From the donor standpoint, a gift to an endowment is forever.

When a Community Fund works with economic development leaders, it helps to build a better entrepreneurial climate.  Creative people often look for communities – urban and rural – that have outstanding quality of life factors, other innovative folks and an acceptance of things that are new and different.

Many of the more successful communities doing these things have strong local control, but still view themselves as part of a greater region.  Thinking and acting like a region is getting popular because many communities are finding that it can be a win/win situation.  Both teams I mentioned above are taking a regional, multi-community approach.

If you’re interested in any of this, a great example from Wisconsin is the Community Progress Initiative, a partnership of the Community Foundation of Greater South Wood County and the Heart of Wisconsin Business and Economic Alliance.  Check out all they do – it’s impressive.

You can also visit the Donors Forum of Wisconsin for information on Community Foundations or look-up info on Hometown Competitiveness or the RUPRI Center for Rural Entrepreneurship.

We’d especially like to hear from you if you know of some successful marriages between Community Foundations and economic development.

Ricky Rolfsmeyer, Wisconsin Rural Partners, Hollandale, WI (Pop. 283)

Owteno Viola Award

August 29, 2009

I have a love/hate relationship with awards. Sometimes I find them silly; simply attend an event and you receive an award. Sometimes I find them totally frustrating; the criteria so subjective you have a greater chance of winning the lotto then bringing home the “prize’. And occasionally, they are so appropriately awarded that you breathe a sigh of complete satisfaction. Some awards are handed out for a body of work already completed; the touted lifetime achievement awards. They leave me wondering if the person is now off the hook. They never need accomplish anything else in life. Some awards are given in out in anticipation of greatness yet to come. It is for everyone to see if the artist can ever achieve enough to live up to the award. And occasionally, the award does both, it sings of what the artist has already accomplished while speaking to the potential which still lays within.rhythm-and-bows

Recently a friend, neighbor,  and colleague of mine, Randy Sabien, was presented with the 2009 Owteno Award from The Viola Foundation, an award that caused me to sigh with great satisfaction and marvel at it’s intent. The Owteno Award is given out to “the applicant most likely to positively impact the viola community at large.” The award is the use of a viola and bow for life, hand selected for the recipient. So why is this award so interesting…It’s because Randy is not a violist. He’s a jazz violinist, a renown jazz violinist and music educator. So why a viola award. In presenting the award, the Viola Foundation stated, ” With your recent appointment as the Chairman of the String Department at McNally Smith College of Music and your long and constantly evolving use of the violin, we believe you are in the best position to advance the viola and its role in alternative music in the years ahead.” How perfect an award is that. It rewards what Randy has already accomplished during a lifetime on the violin and then challenges him to take the potential they see and do it all again with the viola. It’s so beautiful I wish I had thought of it myself.

Just recently Randy picked up his Brian Derber viola and Hartmut Knoll bow from the Claire Givens Violin Shop in Minneapolis. Now I’m waiting for the day when he walks on stage with not one instrument but two. My guess is, I won’t have long to wait.

Dayle Quigley

Island of Refuge

August 25, 2009
Administration Building, Wisconsin Home of the Feeble-Minded, 1897. Photo: Northern Wisconsin Center.

Administration Building, Wisconsin Home for the Feeble- Minded, 1897. Photo: Northern Wisconsin Center.

The recent passing of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founding mother of the Special Olympics, reminds me of the progress we have made in how we perceive and interact with developmentally disabled people.  Shriver’s work was part of a larger movement to return these “special” people to the mainstream of society that many of them had been locked out of for decades.

Wisconsin began its segregation of the developmentally disabled and of those suffering from epilepsy in the 1890s. After years of debate and numerous revelations of the inhumane and often abusive care provided by local governments, the legislature established the Wisconsin Home for the Feeble-Minded.  Brutal as it sounds today, the term feeble-minded was accepted usage in the 19th century, when moron, imbecile and idiot were the clinically accepted headings under which degrees of intellectual disability were filed.

The Wisconsin Home was built on one thousand acres of wild parkland on the banks of the Chippewa River east of Chippewa Falls. The setting was truly idyllic, with fresh water springs, grassy meadows and groves of tall trees. The location reflected the not inaccurate belief that the country was a healthier place to live than the city. And it was isolated, away from large population centers. The reformers who founded the Home wanted it to be an island of refuge whose “inmates” would neither do harm nor be harmed.

"Inmates" at the Wisconsin Home for the Feeble Minded, 1900s. Photo: Northern Wisconsin Center.

"Inmates" at the Wisconsin Home for the Feeble Minded, 1900s. Photo: Northern Wisconsin Center.

Twenty formidible brick and stone buildings were in the original plan, later expanded to twice that number and more. The first inmate  crossed the threshold in June 1897. By October, twelve hundred were admitted.

Most were children of poverty, the offspring of parents without the means to care for a child with special needs, or orphans who, because of their disability, were not likely to be adopted by extended family or friends.  Fear was  a motivating factor. Parents and local officials feared that the slow-witted boy would mature into an unmanageable, dangerous man and the simple-minded girl would develop into a promiscuous breeder of more children just like her.

The humane, progressive, forward-thinking course was to sequester these youngsters on the island, train them to perform the simple tasks of farm labor, handicrafts and house keeping, and put them to work. They would raise and preserve nearly all the food they ate, build much of their furniture, make, mend and launder clothing, cook and clean, maintain the grounds and, as teenagers and older, care for younger inmates.  Given  useful work and a productive role, they would remain on the island for life.

As the initial training programs succeeded and were improved by the addition of  “special education” classes in the early 1900s,  they sowed the seeds of the Home’s demise.  If developmentally disabled people could be trained to function on the island, they could be trained to function off of it as well.

A 2009 Special Olympics champion.

A 2009 Special Olympics champion.

It took many years of slow progress in the law, medicine, education, civil rights  and, most importantly, in the attitude of  those of us who are not developmentally disabled for the “inmates” to be allowed to leave the island.  For that attitudinal change we owe much to Eunice Kennedy Shriver and countless other less-heralded activists.

The “inmates” of 1897 are today’s Special Olympians and on the island no more.

–Michael Goc

The Turnaround King Comes to Town

August 25, 2009

As part of an intense 50-state Arts in Crisis tour, Michael Kaiser blew into Madison on Monday with practical advice for Wisconsin’s arts organizations.

kaiserThe President of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Kaiser has been nicknamed the “turnaround king” for his successful leadership of financially challenged performing arts groups — among them, the Kansas City Ballet, the American Ballet Theatre and London’s Royal Opera House.

His 2008 book The Art of the Turnaround tells the back stories behind these happy endings, while outlining a common sense ten-rule approach to healing “sick” organizations. Yesterday’s easygoing presentation touched on most of them, but two ground rules stand out.

  1. What to do: Plan, plan, plan.  Kaiser says even when day-to-day survival seems uncertain, it’s crucial to think far into an organization’s future, with bold programming that excites patrons and benefactors. Having a good five-year plan allows for fluctuations in the economy and gives executive directors more leeway to fulfill the vision of the artistic director. And, he points out, “You make better art if you take more time.”
  2. What not to do: Cut programming. Arts organizations that feel financially threatened often make cuts to  artistic initiatives and marketing initiatives first, which may seem most discretionary. Kaiser cautions against the urge to do so, though. When programs are cut, organizations make themselves increasingly irrelevant, he says. “This is the time to be adventuresome … make great art, and follow it with great marketing.”

Kaiser says the public-private nature of the Kennedy Center — not only as a national memorial to the late president but as the country’s performing arts center — obligates him to offer services outside of Washington, D.C. It’s that sense of obligation that gave rise to the tour, as well as the Kennedy Center’s Arts in Crisis initiative.

And while he may have left as quickly as he arrived, struggling organizations can still benefit from Kaiser’s expertise. At the project Web site, non-profit arts groups can register for free consulting from Kaiser, his staff and approved mentors. An additional Web site,, offers news and commentary, materials and networking opportunities.

Monday’s presentation was made possible by Madison’s Overture Center for the Arts, the Wisconsin Arts Board, Arts Wisconsin, City of Madison Arts Commission and the Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission.

Interested in viewing Michael Kaiser’s talk in its entirety? WisconsinEye will soon stream a video of  his Overture Center visit on its Web site.

Surviving and Thriving as an Artist

August 15, 2009

I had a nice long conversation today with my friend Eric about marketing and monetizing artwork.

The conversation stemmed from a revelation of a sorts that I had this morning while listening to NPR’s Planet Money podcast, but has its genesis going back four to six months.

Back in 2007 Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails wrote a post in his forums in which he talked about what an emerging music artist should do (in his opinion) to make a go at it as an artist. I encourage you to read the full post here.

The following is an exerpt from Trent Reznor’s original post:

If you’re forging your own path, read on.

* Forget thinking you are going to make any real money from record sales. Make your record cheaply (but great) and GIVE IT AWAY. As an artist you want as many people as possible to hear your work. Word of mouth is the only true marketing that matters.
To clarify:
[n]er with a TopSpin or similar or build your own website, but what you NEED to do is this – give your music away as high-quality DRM-free MP3s. Collect people’s email info in exchange (which means having the infrastructure to do so) and start building your database of potential customers. Then, offer a variety of premium packages for sale and make them limited editions / scarce goods. Base the price and amount available on what you think you can sell. Make the packages special – make them by hand, sign them, make them unique, make them something YOU would want to have as a fan. Make a premium download available that includes high-resolution versions (for sale at a reasonable price) and include the download as something immediately available with any physical purchase. Sell T-shirts. Sell buttons, posters… whatever.

I read this around 3 or 4 months ago, and I thought, ooohhh, great advice, and a sort of proof of concept is available to see here, on the website for Nine Inch Nail’s album Ghosts I-IV. Go Ahead, take a look. You’ll see on the order page, available to anyone, the free download, the $5 download of all of the music, and the $300, 2500 copy limited edition deluxe package which sold out.

(That’s a gross income of $750000 direct to the artist by the way)

So I stared thinking about how I could modify and apply this model of thinking to a visual artist’s work, specifically, to my work. It seems stupidly simple to me now, but it took me about four months of contemplating this to come up with some ideas to use with my work. The stumbling block I had wasn’t trying to figure out where to start (free high resolution downloads of my work) but what to offer on the premium end and what to put in between.

After four months of thought, yesterday I was listening to NPR’s Planet Money Podcast #72 “Bloody, Miserable Medieval Economics” and they were talking about the Medieval Guild system of economics and how it stifled innovation and the eventual onset of the industrialized economy. Have a listen, it’s a great podcast.

What caught my ear and finally catalyzed the necessary thought process was this from correspondent Adam Davidson

So, thinking about this economically what I’m finding confusing is there is so much money left on the table. I mean we now know with the benefit of hindsight that if the shoemakers or clothmakers or whoever else got together and said, ‘Hey guys forget this controlling our production, let’s make as much as we possibly can let’s flood the market, we’ll make a lot less on each one but we’ll sell a lot more units. People will not buy one pair of shoes every ten years they’ll buy one pair of shoes every season or every few months…  …and we’ll all be much richer.’

Now I know what that sounds like, it sounds like a Walmart approach, and if I were to apply that philosophy by itself to my work, well, maybe I’d be Thomas Kinkade, whatever you think about his work, or maybe I’d be something different, but that’s not where I’m going. That was just the catalyst. It was something I needed to hear to allow all of the disconnected ideas to coalesce into the beginnings of a strategy. A strategy for distributing my artwork across a broader audience base; to allow me to build a relationship that respects their desire to access my work, my desire to profit from that work and protect my artistic integrity.

Based off of that initial relationship, I can then take the audience/artist relationship and turn it into a patron/artist relationship. A patron being, “a regular customer, someone who supports or champions something.” Ideally, that something being me and my work.

Okay, I told you all of that, so I can tell you this. Here’s what I’ve got in mind as a starting point for executing this.

My website will be the home base for this, and on my website, this is what I’m going to offer:

  • High resolution downloads of images for free. The only requirement will be creating a free account and providing an email address. By high resolution I mean an image that could be printed at photographic quality at 8″x12″
  • Packs of high resolution images (zip files) available at a low cost. An example would be a pack of images from my upcoming scavenger hunt exhibit or sub-bodies of my work.
  • Handmade limited edition photography books available of my exhibits, sets, etc… By handmade I mean hand bound, with all text hand written, all design and layout work done by me.
  • Non-handmade books for sale through print on demand services like Blurb or Qoop, for a less costly book owning option for patrons
  • Free .pdf/epub ebook available for download of the books.
  • Limited edition folios of work available.
  • Large format very limited edition selections of work for purchase.

As you can see, the options break down into roughly four categories/premium levels.

  1. Free in exchange for a bit of information, with no limit to quantities/editions. Information (email, name) that I would use respectfully to inform my patrons of news and available works/products
  2. Lower cost convenience access to work in unlimited editions/quantities. Download packs and print on demand books
  3. Mid-range cost limited edition products (handmade books, folios)
  4. High end very limited edition (select large format works)

This is all in very early idea stage development, so I’m going to have to do some research on certain things and determine how I will add and maintain this on my website, as well as what final form my offerings will take. For instance, will I make all images on my site available for the high res. downloads, or selected images, will I offer the print on demand books, or just the handmade editions (cost comparisons will be in order), how limited will the editions be, etc…

I’m really excited about doing this and coupling it with my use of twitter and other social media outlets to connect with my audience/patrons. Now, I need to get to work!

–Spyros Heniadis

WPR Remembers Les Paul

August 14, 2009

From Wisconsin Public Radio‘s Web site:

Les Paul. Photo: Wisconsin Historical Society.

Les Paul. Photo: Wisconsin Historical Society.

“Musician, inventor, and Waukesha native Les Paul has died at the age of 94. The legendary guitarist is credited with helping bring the rise of rock and roll music, with the electric guitar and multi-track recording. WPR’s Chuck Quirmbach interviewed Paul after a May 2007 showing of a documentary about his life and contributions to music.”

You can download the interview by visiting WPR’s homepage.

And here’s a link to the documentary Chasing Sound, where you can watch clips, view images of Paul and his hometown of Waukesha and learn more about one of Wisconsin’s own:

The Arachnologist Delivers

August 12, 2009

The guy who delivered my pizza last night loves spiders. I turned on the porch light as I stepped outside to take the boxes. The large spider that hangs out over the light was center stage and we were soon talking about how cool he was. I learned that Pizza Guy likes to take pictures of spiders, which he sometimes enlarges as prints for his walls. He had his camera in the car, so I invited him to take a picture of my porch spider, and I also got to see a few other spider shots he had stored on the memory card.

Simply a porch spider. Photo by Jessica Becker

Simply a porch spider. Photo by Jessica Becker

I don’t personally care that much about spiders, but I’m no arachnophobe, either. When I stopped to look at this eight-legged critter, I wanted to know more about him. Specifically, I wanted to know what kind of spider it was. That’s just the way I am, so I was intrigued when Pizza Guy said he believed it was related to a tarantula.

“Really?” I asked more impressed than incredulous. But his response was: “That’s what I believe.”

I take that to mean he really had no idea what kind of spider it was. He simply appreciated it for its intrinsic, perhaps aesthetic, value. How refreshing.

I am so used to hanging out with people who are the epitome of “inquiring minds want to know.” This is made finger-tip easy by the iphone and other phone-to-Web applications.  It’s hard to get through a conversation without someone fact-checking a comment, or pulling up a graphic to illustrate their point, or finding out just exactly who did originally say that, and when.

It really wouldn’t be all that difficult to figure out what kind of spider it is hanging out above my porch light. But, who cares, really? I believe he eats mosquitoes, which makes me happy to have him around.

by Jessica Becker, Director of Public Programs, Wisconsin Humanities Council