Sunday, November 15, 2009

Duluth Art Office

Ann Klefstad

This is an initial draft proposal for a nonprofit development office that serves as a liaison between Duluth cultural workers (musicians, artists, theater workers, filmmakers, dancers, and more) and people and entities who need their services. This office would also be an active advocate for Duluth artists of all kinds in other communities and cities. The office would be a business advocacy office for all those engaged in the arts: music presenters and venues like Sacred Heart, visual and verbal artists, writers, filmmakers, gallery owners, musicians, festival producers, dancers, publishers, and more.


The Duluth Art Office would maintain a website/database of artists’ work to offer as a reference source for businesses, public entities, and private citizens. Those who want to work with local artists, musicians, writers, and craftspeople, who need artists or entertainers for their buildings or events, could easily find the talent they need locally through the database but also through the deep knowledge and ongoing research of the staff of the agency. This database could be linked with ongoing website initiatives such as the DuSu.

The Office would also actively seek out opportunities for creative workers locally, making presentations to business and community groups to ensure that they are familiar with the diverse range of goods and services produced by Duluth artists and performers. The Office would keep current on building projects and startups locally and apprise artists of opportunities as they come up.

The Office could serve as a resource for existing festivals and arts productions: contact information for artists, information and help in permitting, scheduling information (to avoid conflicts) and more could aid such existing programming.
The Office would recognize arts and cultural production as an industry, providing employment for Duluth citizens and drawing both money and tourists to the city.
In addition, the Office would advocate for Duluth artists and performers in the broader cultural world outside Duluth. Possible initiatives could include:

  • • Working to build venue-sharing between Duluth theater, dance, music, and filmmaking groups and Twin Cities groups. The small rentable theaters we now have could be made use of by Twin Cities performing groups, and similar venues in the Twin Cities could be the sites for Duluth performers. Creating a regular touring season between Duluth and the Twin Cities in cooperation with such venues as the Play Ground, the Harbor City School Theater, and Teatro Zuccone, and in the Twin Cities, Bedlam Theater, the Bryant-Lake Bowl, and Open Eye Theater, would be a possibility.
    • Putting together group shows of Duluth artists and craftspeople that would travel to art and craft biennials and fairs around the world. The Office could act as a gallery in these instances, renting a booth at arts fairs in order to display the riches of Duluth culture to broader audiences. Nonprofit or new galleries showing in such fairs often can get a discounted booth rate. The art market is increasingly invested in such fairs, and economic survival for Duluth artists and craftspeople depends upon their developing markets outside of Duluth for their work. The staff of the Duluth Art Office would need to be able to professionally represent Duluth artists as contributors to the artworld.
    • Professional development guidance and help for Duluth artists. If Duluth artists, performers, and craftspeople are to develop markets for their work outside of Duluth, they need to meet high professional standards. The Art Office would provide training, critique groups, help with grants writing, portfolio review, liaison with recording and video services, connections to out of town galleries and labels, and other diverse professional development help. Small-business counseling and advice for artists could also be a service offered by the Office.

  • Funding

    Funding for the Duluth Art Office would be diverse:

  • • CDBG funds designated as jobs funding could be used as seed money.
    • Grantwriting to cultural funders such as the Knight Foundation, the Bush Foundation, the McKnight Foundation, the Jerome Foundation, the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation, the Minnesota Foundation, and Arts Midwest would be done.
    • The Andy Warhol / Creative Capital Foundation is interested in funding initiatives that treat artists as businesspeople. A proposal would be made to the Foundation to provide major funding for startup of the Office.
    • The state Heritage/Legacy funds for the arts could be tapped for a new initiative like this one. Local representatives are on the committee now doing factfinding outstate on worthy projects.
    • It is possible that economic stimulus funds could be available for an arts-business initiative like this.
    • Fundraising among local businesses for whom an active and professionally strong arts community would be advantageous is another possibility: looking at the long list of contributors to the Duluth Seaway Port Authority’s River Quest program, it appears that Duluth businesses are interested in helping enterprises that seek to expand the appeal of Duluth.
    • After the Office has programming in place, opportunities for revenue could be sought in the services the Office provides, whether this would be in the form of commissions for services (like professional galleries or agents) or user fees.
    • The City of Duluth could support this enterprise with in-kind help of various sorts. The most valuable could be simply the endorsement of the city. The existing Public Art Commission could continue unchanged, but could benefit from the continuity and process-design help offered by the Duluth Art Office.

  • Other professional and business associations could serve as models

    The Duluth Seaway Port Authority is a different sort of entity, but some of their activity could serve as a model for an Arts Office.

    In the description found on the Port Authority website,

    the Port Authority is an independent public agency created by the Minnesota Legislature in 1955. It operates under Minnesota Statutes 469.048 through 469.068 and 074.
    . . . . it shall "promote the general welfare of the port district, and of the port as a whole," and that it shall "try to increase the volume of the port's commerce."
    Revenue is generated through land leases, operating fees, economic development investments and related financing activities. The City of Duluth also provides some financial assistance.

    This description provides a rough model for what an Art Office could become. Other business-advocacy groups, such as the Downtown Council or the Chamber of Commerce, could also be consulted to discover what clients value and need and what revenue opportunities exist for such groups.


    1. Hi Ann,

      This is great! I've felt like I've been trying to reinvent the wheel on my own on a daily basis for the past 7 years. It would be nice to have access to local, one-stop-shop advocacy, education and support services.

      What I'd like to see in an entity like this:
      - All of the services and funding supports you listed above...
      - Partnering with VSA arts of Minnesota ( to help increase access to the arts in the Twin Ports for people with disabilities (including artists with disabilities),
      - Promotion of radical inclusion and a nurturing atmosphere,
      - Microloans for artists/art entrepreneurs.

      Did I mention this is a great idea? Let me know if and how I can help out.


    2. Great, Bridget! You are right--VSA would be a fantastic partner. Some of the best work I've seen in this region comes from VSA artists, and it is also a great way to expand audiences. And "radical inclusion and a nurturing atmosphere" should be what art is all about. The microloan idea (and self-financing through a supplemented savings plan) has been very successful in other settings, and it would be something I'm interested in doing.

    3. This is a great idea. I have always viewed to arts as a way to teach about difficult issues like race, class and homophobia. It can also teach us how to play. To have everything under "one roof" yet collaborations with all the arts groups, would give more power for major funding



    Please write on what you'd like to see in an entity like this.