Getting Closer

In 2014, Springboard for the Arts was faced with a question – How do we grow our work and support more artists across the country while staying grounded in our work as an artist-led organization based in Minnesota? We had deep experience building resources and professional development for artists to make a living and a life. We knew we wanted this kind of infrastructure for artists all across the country. We had created a toolkit for our Community Supported Art program that had seen quick uptake and replication. We had seen how people could take a practical resource and make something happen in their community without having to re-invent the wheel.

Those seeds are what we planted with Creative Exchange, an experiment in storytelling and resource-sharing. We wanted to share stories that would connect people, that would uplift creative work happening in communities and inspire others to action. We thought that if we could share the practical toolkits from our programs, and collect and commission other toolkits, that would create more opportunities for artists and communities to work together. We kept our grounding by saying that in Minnesota we did things, and through Creative Exchange, we could make things happen nationally.

Over 400 stories and features, and more than 12,000 toolkit downloads later, we’ve learned and grown so much through this experiment. We know that people are hungry for creativity, opportunity, and community. We’ve seen how highlighting artists in deep and thoughtful ways can make them feel seen and validated, and spur on greater visibility. We’ve seen program replications and adaptations from small postcard projects to large-scale creative placemaking work.

In this new report, Closer, evaluator Michael Johnson digs into these years of work, with survey responses from Creative Exchange users, and interviews with Creative Exchange authors and featured artists.

+ Read the Closer report

+ Get toolkits for creative projects

+ Read the story archives

The themes in this report from survey respondents echo what we’ve learned at Springboard over the years.  People are looking for opportunities to get closer to creativity, closer to opportunity, and closer to community. We’ve learned that toolkits and stories are not always enough by themselves to spark change – being in direct contact, providing in-person context and guidance, and patience as ideas germinate and bloom have been a key part of this work.

Over the years we have added in-person trainings to our national work, and grown our national convening opportunities like the Rural Arts & Culture Summit. We have been able to be a part of convenings, projects, and consulting work, and cheered on colleagues doing the same. Each project has helped refine and expand the tools presented here – different approaches to community engagement and involvement, clearer focus on equity in practice, more ideas about how to do the work. And we need more, because there is so much work to do. It is heartening to see more toolkits and sharing resources appear over these past few years, both as a way to get work out, and make more possible.

In 2020, having readily available resources and toolkits has been critical to our work as a creative and arts sector responding to the twin crises of the pandemic and the fight for racial justice. Springboard has had a long-running Emergency Relief Fund, and as we ramped up that work in March of 2020, our muscle for making toolkits developed through Creative Exchange kicked in and we produced a field guide for others. That resource has been downloaded over 600 times this year, over 150 leaders from across the country have joined the information and resource-sharing calls around Emergency Relief Funds, and we have inspired replications and adaptations across the country.

In August 2020 (after the survey was completed) we launched A Handbook for Artists Working in Community as a tool for artists who want to do community engaged work. In three months, the Handbook has been downloaded over 1,200 times, showing the need for more resources and support for artists, creative workers, and culture bearers to lead community change. Sharing freely has always been at the core of Creative Exchange, and it is clear that in a time of crisis that the more we could share, the more we could respond together, and build towards a more creative and just future.

There are so many people to thank for making this work happen. The artists and organizations who have trusted us to share their work and their stories, and everyone who has created toolkits and allowed us to share them on Creative Exchange are all inspirations. Going through these archives is a reminder of the constant drive and ingenuity of people working to make their communities more connected and creative.

Thanks to the funders who have supported this work over the years, from launching the platform, to bringing people together, to funding toolkits – the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, the Surdna Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation, the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation, the Mardag Foundation, and the Bush Foundation.

The writers who put these stories together and shared their insights and inspirations have been a joy to work with, especially Nicole Rupersburg, who wrote so many features. And as always, thanks to the staff of artists and organizers at Springboard for the Arts who keep on finding new ways to create and share. Keep on making, keep getting closer – you are not alone.