The Time to Act Is Now

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The Time to Act Is Now

WE NEED YOU TO HELP US PREPARE FOR IMMINENT COMMUNITY CHANGES

A shift is underway. As the largest generation in the U.S. labor force, Millennials are beginning to influence not just urban areas but also smaller and more suburban communities such as Fishers, Noblesville, Cicero, Tipton, Arcadia and Atlanta. Communities can either be open to this shift and grow, or they can fail to capitalize on the shift and lose out.

“Our arts community on the whole is changing as tastes and art education change,” says Aili McGill, director of Nickel Plate Arts. “Prior to about 1990, there was much more rigidity in art schools about what art is and isn’t. Kids coming out of art schools today are thinking very broadly. Technology and mixed media are part of the art conversation, and abstract work is more universally embraced.”

This broad thinking goes well beyond the arts, but the arts do provide tangible, visual evidence of a change. For McGill and the Nickel Plate Arts team and board, the impending changes also present a valuable opportunity to provide this audience with ways to build community in the Nickel Plate Region.

“We have this challenge and as a 4-year-old organization actively seeking input from artists and non-artists, we are so well poised to help everyone find a home and an identity,” McGill says. “We need to also help established artists navigate the shifts in the tide, which is why focusing on the community is so critical; we have to be able to navigate this change all together.”

People in their 20s and 30s tend to have perspectives on and expectations of work, culture and leadership that are different from their parents’ and grandparents’. In the art world, they are pushing limits, embracing diversity and challenging the definitions of good and bad, right and wrong. More and more, art doesn’t have to be pretty and make you feel good. Things that are rough and ugly and imperfect can be and are very interesting art projects.

The diverse ways in which art is interpreted mirrors the ways in which communities are shaped. School mascots, slogans and branding initiatives don’t make a community’s reputation. People who live and work in them determine what a city or town stands for. When those people feel accepted and invigorated, they thrive, and their cities and towns can reap the benefits of increased citizen engagement, local spending, job development and innovation.

Consider the consequences of not engaging a new generation of creative, open-minded people. In how many ways could a city or town miss out while another community attracts new people and benefits?

On most Monday nights at Nickel Plate Arts, a group meets for Monday Night Drawing Class, led by Eric O’Dell. There’s an older artist who uses the group dynamic to hold her accountable. She says class “keeps her honest.” A marketing executive savvy in graphic design takes the class as professional development. Other students are satisfying a curiosity in drawing that they’ve never indulged before.

Opportunities like these are open doors to broad thinkers and experience seekers. They represent parts of the kind of environment Millennials value. Keeping these doors open takes people and funds.

“If we closed tomorrow, all the services we offer artists to show their work, network with other artists and grow their businesses would be gone. Reasons to come downtown to Noblesville on First Fridays would be substantially reduced. Opportunities for adults and teens to try art would be gone,” McGill says.

“But, the biggest shame would be the loss of potential. After four years, with the support of Hamilton County Tourism, we have the infrastructure in place to make very specific, exciting things happen over the next five years.”

Nickel Plate Arts is currently building on a solid foundation — people, facilities, processes, relationships — to become an independently financial organization by Jan. 1, 2017. The notion of closing its doors isn’t just an abstract thought exercise. It is a real possibility.

“We need people to support us now,” McGill says. “We need them to get onboard and help champion our cause before the going gets really tough. After Jan. 1, we will be on very tenuous footing, and the more friends we get now, the better.”

When Nickel Plate Arts officially opened its doors at the Judge Stone House in 2012, it almost immediately outgrew the space that most people involved thought would be more than enough to accommodate the fledgling group. Studio artists, classes and gallery spaces overflowed next door to the Stephenson House and hit capacity there as well.

The organization doubled its staff within the first two years, now employing two full-time and three part-time staffers. Its audience has evolved from artists and people taking classes to people with a vested interest in their community, business owners who steer economic development, parents and municipal leaders.

As with most non-profit organizations, funding is a challenge for Nickel Plate Arts. McGill says it’s their greatest limiting factor as they move forward — there’s no shortage of artists and interest in what they’re doing. Helping individuals and businesses to realize the small-picture and big-picture value of becoming a member or sponsor is difficult, but it’s an important challenge.

“As a nonprofit with a public mission, if we aren’t providing a service that the public values, there’s no point in being here. We know this is important work,” McGill says.

Being able to offer Millennials the open doors and diversity they value benefits anyone interested in building a stronger community. Young people are going to put down roots somewhere, and Nickel Plate Arts is readying the soil in the cities and towns it serves.

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Casey Kenley
casey@caseykenley.com