Mt Pleasant News

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Neighbors Growing Together | Jul 16, 2018

Making an impact through art

Local arts, cultural promotion group hosts summit
Nov 06, 2017
Photo by: Brooks Taylor Roger Thomas, a former state legislator and now with the Elkader Development Corporation and Main Street Elkader, right, makes a point during a panel discussion on the best practices in growing and sustaining an active arts community during the Nov. 3. arts summit in Mt. Pleasant. Ted Strait of the Maquoketa Art Experience is on the left, and Matthew Harris with the Iowa Arts Council is on the right.

By Brooks Taylor, Mt. Pleasant News


A relatively new civic organization is attempting to make an impact in Mt. Pleasant.

Mt. Pleasant Arts IMPACT, an organization formed in 2015 to promote arts and culture in Mt. Pleasant, hosted its first significant event Nov. 3, bringing business, government and education leaders as well as art and cultural enthusiasts for the Mt. Pleasant Arts Summit at the Union Block Building.

The summit featured a number of guest speakers and panelists from around Iowa to share their expertise and offer their insight.

Topics of discussion included quality of life and economic impact that arts have on a community; success toward achievement of a significant object of public art; and how IMPACT can continue to grow and sustain an active arts environment.

In opening remarks, David File, president of IMPACT, said that although the organization has not yet celebrated its second birthday, it was working to achieve its mission.

“We came together with the common understanding that arts and culture are fundamental enhancements to our community’s quality of life,” File began. “It is our mission to ignite and promote community excitement in the appreciation, support and growth of artistic and cultural activities in and around Mt. Pleasant.

“IMPACT envisions itself being the area’s advocacy group — integrating arts and culture into the economy, education and everyday lives of residents and visitors in our community,” continued File. “Ultimately, we want to see Mt. Pleasant as a place where residents and visitors alike can experience the power and benefits of our diverse arts and culture.”

Ted Strait of the Maquoketa Art Experience said it is “going to take patience and perseverance” for IMPACT to attain its goal of growing and sustaining an active art community.

“Art Experience (of Maquoketa) began in 2008 and the excitement was confined to a church basement for a long time,” Strait said. “We didn’t really start growing until we acquired a storefront in the business district.”

Strait said it is important to convince people that what you are doing is best for the community.

Roger Thomas of the Elkader Development Corporation and Main Street Elkader related that his organization found that a regional approach works best.

“You have to promote it as not a local but regional event,” Thomas suggested. “That is what worked best for us.”

Matthew Harris of the Iowa Arts Council said to grow and sustain and active arts community, the committee should build on the community’s core strengths. “After you’ve done that, expanding and diversifying offerings will build support. Realizing sustained excitement is not flipping on a switch. In a community, it can be a slow burner. Build on the assets of your community and encourage cross-sector participation. Sustained excitement has to be built in all sectors of the community. Sometimes excitement will wane and other times peak.”

Jennifer Drinkwater, an Iowa State Community Arts specialist, keynoted the event. Drinkwater said that for art to build in a community, the community must move beyond murals to theatre productions, musicals, etc. It’s all about involvement, she stated. “The more people you involve in art the better chance you have of increasing the importance of art in the community. When done well, art can foster civic pride.”

Charles Fluharty of the Rural Policy Research Institute in Iowa City said all the elements exist in Mt. Pleasant for art and culture to flourish. He noted the community has history, culture, a university and agriculture. “You are in a unique position. ... This is so exciting what you are doing. For art to grow in a community, you need an enthusiastic organization promoting it.”

Fluharty said art and culture in a community are necessary for growth. “It is extremely important to bring the millennials to a community where art and culture matters. If we don’t get the next generation to stay home, we are in trouble.”

One of the agenda items was the development of a public art project. Tom Stancliffe of the Public Art Incubator at the University of Northern Iowa, said if a community project is undertaken, input from many is needed for it to be successful. “You have to have input from the community. What does it need to address? You need input on the things that bind people together. Bringing the community together is critical for a public art project.”

Christopher Bennett, owner of the Bennett Studio in Keosauqua, agreed. “Do your research on what people want. Sometimes a project is based on the tastes of the committee and not the community.”

File was pleased with the event, noting the summit is only the beginning, signaling a new advancement in Arts IMPACT’S efforts as the organization looks to build stronger and deeper bonds between arts, culture and the community.

Afterward, File said the summit achieved its objective. “This event was intended to bring together community leaders — both elected and volunteer — with Mt. Pleasant business leaders, educators, artists and art advocates to discuss ways in which we can leverage the arts and cultural assets we have in order to improve our quality of life and economic development.”

The summit, File concluded, was a beginning — taking what was learned at the event and turning it into the group’s resolve to strengthen and grow Mt. Pleasant’s Arts and cultural opportunities.

Sponsoring the summit was the City of Mt. Pleasant.


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