As I celebrate my 20th anniversary at South Shore Arts, I find myself reflecting on where our organization, and the arts in general, have been and where they’re going.
Northern Indiana Arts Association, as we were called in 1993, was a very social organization, but what we needed was a social conscience. Fortunately, we had a new board willing to create a new mission, one much more sensitive to the diverse needs of our region as a whole.
All sorts of terms such as inclusive, underserved and multi-cultural, were becoming buzzwords in nonprofit circles and philanthropy. Word (the software) used to ask me all the time in my grant-writing if I didn’t mean “undeserved.” It took awhile for Word to get it right.
I am pleased that, over the past 20 years, we have expanded our social conscience, not only at South Shore Arts but throughout the regional arts community. We work to make the arts and arts education accessible to everyone in the region. We recognize the importance of art to children, that one way or another, it teaches them everything they need to know about life. As Carol Channing says, “It’s like fertilizer for the brain.”
In 1997, we were given an opportunity to help make the arts matter when South Shore Arts became a regional arts partner of the Indiana Arts Commission. It forced us to evolve from being strictly a visual arts organization into a regional arts council, something our area had never had. The funding and other resources made available to us gave us the flexibility to reach out to artists and arts organizations to create a cohesive, noncompetitive arts community.
At the same time, regional leaders were employing the Money magazine indicators in an effort to assess and improve our region’s quality of life. The arts and culture were among these indicators, and the regional arts partnership with the Indiana Arts Commission made South Shore Arts the region’s official arts leader.
Over the past two decades, the arts have emerged as one of the region’s most positive aspects of life, always the highest ranked on the list. At the same time, the geographical boundaries that would separate us from Chicago are blurring with every young artist who graduates from Columbia or the School of the Art Institute or wherever they study and in whatever discipline.
Today, it’s all one big metropolitan region. But it’s a vast region, so we still need arts locally to make art accessible to people, and we need quality arts to make the experience worth their while.
Over the past 20 years, the arts have been a remarkably effective catalyst for bringing people together both locally and throughout our culture. Art, which is always a very individual experience, is also universal. It can transform our minds, as well as our surroundings. It is gratifying to work in a field that has this power and know our work is being appreciated.