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Arts Impact Ohio attendees encouraged to stretch during the closing remarks of the Arts Impact Ohio conference

Reflections on Arts Impact Ohio 2022

We’re fresh from the Ohio Arts Council’s Arts Impact Ohio conference in Akron earlier this month, and it was wonderful to see so many of you together again, sharing news and making connections over two full days. We engaged in great conversations about important topics affecting the arts sector. It was energizing to join with colleagues and reflect on the crazy times in our lives between 2020 and now. So many important ideas and topics were discussed—and many weren’t just Ohio-centric or even arts-centric, but national and worldly issues.

A common theme among arts managers and HR folks was the idea of what “work” looks like and feels like today, post-pandemic:

  • The overwhelming majority of opinions I heard was that work from home isn’t going away. The direct impacts for employees working from home are quality of life, quantity of savings (e.g., travel time, dry cleaning, parking fees, gas consumption, etc.), and sensibilities about work teams and work/life balance.
  • We hear nationally that people are quitting their jobs in record numbers and searching for work that is meaningful to their core values and interests. Some are leaving for-profit work to join the arts and creative sectors, which has been happening for some time.
  • Gig workers and freelancers are nothing new in the arts world, and the rest of the globe has caught on. Of course, we learned during the pandemic that good policy is required for our independent workers, for example, in the areas of unemployment, health care, and access to services. With intentionality and the right support, the gig economy can provide livelihoods.

These workforce movements are top of mind as folks come and go from the arts sector, seek new skill development and training, and determine their own future workspace. Implications abound as arts organizations seek qualified candidates for their job openings. There is much to do in the arts sector workforce, including working towards better policies, especially policies that provide a safety net for gig workers. And, if you have a home office, I wouldn’t redecorate just yet; the trend of working from home remains strong, and organizations are finding cost savings and quality of life impacts that are game changers.

There were several opportunities to discuss and share ideas about everything “virtual.” IT professionals, arts education designers, and innovative program developers sprung to life to create amazing virtual content on dozens of platforms for (often free) consumption by people all over the world.    

  • Innovations in technology are serving folks with disabilities and our rural communities to a higher degree, albeit broadband deserts or digital divides persist. Kim Turner, ADA coordinator and investment associate at the OAC, recognized the benefits of increased digital programming for individuals with disabilities early and applauded the arts organizations providing such high-quality content.
  • Zoom classrooms positively impacted arts opportunities for students and teachers in 2021 and do still today. Ask Ohio’s professional teaching artists, and they will tell you how they turned on a dime and became digital designers and content masters, delivering the arts in ways they never imagined.
  • Today, capacity for virtual offerings is taking its toll on staff to provide both in-person and virtual programming across genres. Even as arts audiences and visitors return to our cultural organizations for in-person, real-time experiences, there is continued demand for virtual programming. Remember, arts organizations generally did not increase staff sizes to deliver virtual programming—far from it!—our focus simply shifted. The need now remains to address this double-demand of programming and find a means for affording it.  

In Ohio, the state has made huge investments in technology infrastructure, working cooperatively with the federal government and private companies. It’s just the beginning, and we’ll need to consider investments in virtual and digital programming as an arts sector.

Does such an investment provide greater access to learners of all ages? I think the answer is “yes.” Arts organizations statewide took to the digital airwaves to deliver opportunities to classrooms and living rooms, and most are not ready to fully give up on the access they’ve provided and the worldwide audiences they gained during the pandemic. One big question is how to properly monetize digital products and find consumers’ willingness to pay for programming, especially when it was free amid the pandemic. There is lots more work here to figure out, and we hope the arts sector will lead the way with new business models and opportunity zones for greater access and sustainability through technology and digital access.

What I know for sure is that I’m energized by the positive opportunities and the value proposition of the arts in the State of Ohio:

  • The arts have always mattered to Ohio, and for more than 50 years, the Governor and the General Assembly have called upon the Ohio Arts Council – as your one and only state arts agency – to support them; indeed, we “shall administer any state funds appropriated” for the development of the arts.
  • The Ohio Arts Council Board continues to be supportive and engaged, interested in the success of the arts and their availability to all Ohioans across all 88 counties. They lead with policy development that supports the arts sector – which means jobs, education, quality of life, economic development, and sustainable arts organizations and artists.
  • The arts leaders in Ohio give it their all--day-in and day-out. They lead, innovate, engage, and make positive impacts, investing in their communities and beyond. Their artistic choices, hiring practices, care and safety of all who enter their doors, and so much more all work together to make Ohio a great State for the Arts!
  • Ohioans know they live and work in a place where cultural vitality and arts education are priorities. They support the arts through their tax dollars, their individual giving, and, most importantly, their participation.

From my vantage point, as the executive director of the best state arts agency in the nation, we have the full package – investment, engagement, innovation, and leadership. We have the can-do posture and attitude to know this truth: the arts are stronger when we all work together!

Until next time,

Donna S. Collins
Executive Director

Featured photo courtesy of the Shane Wynn

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