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A group of people sit around a table during the SAVVY Arts Venture Challenge

Putting Creativity to Work: Ohio Attendees Reflect on the 2019 SAVVY Arts Venture Challenge

SAVVY participants build their exhibit for project Reveal DayWhat do you get when you bring 81 artists, educators, and arts administrators together for an intense six-day professional development boot camp? A group of Ohioans flew to South Carolina through an Ohio Arts Council funding opportunity to find out.

While taking part in the SAVVY Arts Venture challenge, hosted at the University of South Carolina, creative professionals from around the country were divided into teams to apply innovative problem-solving strategies to real-world issues brought by local clients. For one week, participants met with organizations in the community to identify projects that could be approached through non-traditional partnerships.

The goal—achieved through brainstorming sessions, pitch meetings, and collaborative project-related challenges—was to develop an implementable plan that applied artistic thought to a non-arts related industry. The boot camp culminated in the much-anticipated “Reveal Day,” when proposals were presented to a panel of judges with the best taking home ultimate bragging rights.

At the end of this whirlwind week, attendees left with an arsenal of ideas on how to reinvent their own communities using the problem-solving power of the arts. We spoke to some of the Ohio participants about their experiences and the SAVVY knowledge they’re bringing back to the Buckeye State.

Briefly describe your overall SAVVY experience. What projects were you asked to take on?

Thomas Sigel, founder and executive director, ORMACO:
“The SAVVY experience was an intense week of bringing together amazing, diverse people from all over the United States. I worked on helping a local hydroponic lettuce farm achieve more revenue streams by connecting the arts to his business.
Once placed in our teams, we were instructed not to take on a role of something we normally do. I was assigned the role of video producer. This was a fun task, as I was able to come up with the visual concept/pitch for our project.”

April Deacon, artist and arts educator, Portsmouth City Schools:

“SAVVY was definitely not an introvert-friendly workshop. From the moment we arrived, we were forced to interact with others in ways that most of us had never dared. We were constantly in a state of interaction and problem-solving.
Our team’s community partner was the Columbia Fireflies. Upon spending some time with the staff of this minor league baseball team, we determined their number one problem was connecting with the Latinx community. We developed an arts festival for the ballpark that embraced the visual, performing, and musical arts of the home countries of the many Latin American team members.”

Jeff Ryder, foundation and major gifts director, Cleveland Play House:

“This was a professional development experience unlike anything I have done before. My team was assigned to work with Proof Alcohol Ice Cream, a Columbia, South Carolina-based ice cream company that includes 7 percent alcohol in their ice cream.
My team developed a subscription service allowing customers to have three pints of seasonal flavors shipped to their door four times per year. We also proposed including a fourth container that we called 'party in a pint.' This would include a custom piece of artwork (visual art, original music playlist, dance choreography, etc.) with each shipment as well as encouragement to post photos engaging with the artwork to social media. At the end of the week, we were rated the judges’ number one pick and the overall winner of the competition.”
A SAVVY team brainstorms creative solutions for their local client

How was SAVVY different from other professional development workshops or conferences you’ve attended?

Dennis TenWolde, director of institutional giving, Dayton Performing Arts Alliance:

“I found value in SAVVY’s unique method to find real-life partnering organizations, emphasis on finding new ways to use arts in the community, and the connections I made with other arts professionals. SAVVY does an excellent job of finding local, real-life partners in the community that the attendees can work with. I commend them for that, in that this is the first I have ever witnessed and one of the best aspects of the program.”

Holly Ittel, Exhibitions and Quilt National director, The Dairy Barn Arts Center:

“SAVVY was very hands-on. We would learn tools and ideas and then would immediately implement them in planning our arts-based solution.
I think one of the most important takeaways was working with so many wonderful people. My team was diverse, interesting, and very hardworking. Our community partner was extremely giving, honest, and bold. These aspects of SAVVY were the most special.”

Jordan Knepper, executive director, Piqua Arts Council:

“SAVVY was completely different than any other professional development I have been to. This wasn’t a conference or even a workshop in the traditional sense. We were on a team solving real-world problems with the arts as a way to a solution. Not only did we do that, but we also learned leadership techniques and brainstorming activities we could take back to our own organizations. It was one of the most exhausting experiences but also extremely fulfilling.”

What are some things you learned at SAVVY that you plan to implement through your work in the arts in Ohio?

Yvonne Thomas, director of development, The Fine Arts Association:
“I see how arts solutions can be utilized for community and business-related organizations. I learned some excellent team building and communication strategies that I can use, and lastly, I met a wealth of individuals who I can call or reach out to as I progress professionally.”

Jeff Ryder, foundation and major gifts director, Cleveland Play House:

“I learned a great deal about how the arts can benefit non-arts organizations. I look forward to thinking differently about what partnerships with corporations and other community organizations can look like in the future.”

April Deacon, artist and arts educator, Portsmouth City Schools:

“I can apply nearly everything I learned within my classroom—from the performance exercises, to the market research, to perhaps even hosting a SAVVY game of my own in my ‘Art and Community’ course. I hope I can one day use the knowledge within an organization of my own creation.”

Learn more about the SAVVY Arts Venture challenge here:

The Ohio Arts Council is a state agency that funds and supports quality arts experiences to strengthen Ohio communities culturally, educationally, and economically. Connect with the OAC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or visit our website at

Featured photo: SAVVY participants sit at a table during the six-day professional development boot camp. Photo courtesy of Thomas Sigel

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