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Reflecting on 2018 and the arts affect on Austin

As 2018 comes to an end, I’m pondering — how do you measure a year?

Numbers tell part of the story. Austin Area Arts served over 18,000 people in 2018. That breaks down to 47 movies, 26 live shows, seven private events and one film fest at the Paramount Theatre, two days celebrating the arts at the Austin ArtWorks Festival, 49 kids classes, 44 adults classes, 17 private events, eight open jam sessions, seven gallery shows, four music concerts and over 120 retail artists at the Austin ArtWorks Center.

That’s all made possible by four full-time-equivalent employees, 300 volunteers and over 6,000 donated labor hours. In 2018, the estimated economic impact of Austin Area Arts was over $1,000,000 (Americans for the Arts).

Another way to measure success is to review progress on goals. We wanted to serve more kids in the Saturday $5 Kids Studio program and we did — going from 201 in 2017 to 2,011 in 2018. We wanted to boost the business of our neighbors in downtown Austin and we did — 78 percent of surveyed downtown businesses reported more foot traffic than usual and 38 percent reported much higher sales than usual during the Austin ArtWorks Festival in August. We wanted to expand the diversity of our organizational leadership and we did — adding two people of color to our board and committees in 2018. We wanted to expand the diversity of the artists we work with to offer our programming and we did — hiring two new art instructors who are Hispanic and bringing Freedom Jazz, a GLBTQ band from Minneapolis to Austin ArtWorks Festival are just two examples.

Diversity and inclusion goals also lead to the planning of a major event in 2019. Working with Obsidian Arts, located in Minneapolis, Austin will host the first exhibit of the first ever Minnesota Black Fine Art Show which features the art of Minnesota artists who identify as Black, African or African-American. After showing for nine weeks in Austin, the show will continue around the state and be on view in Duluth, St. Cloud, Mankato and Minneapolis. Watch for more information about this event.

We wanted to sell out the Paramount Theatre and we didn’t. But we came close — twice! The 2018 Schindler Celebration event on Aug. 25, part of the Austin ArtWorks Festival, brought 585 guests to see Puddles Pity Party, just short of our capacity of 622. On Dec. 10, pianist Lorie Line attracted 496 guests. The goal to sell out remains on our to-do list, but we are proud of improvements in attendance at the Paramount and we’ll keep going.

Sometimes the successes are a good measure of a year. In 2018, Austin Area Arts won an Operating Support grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board in the amount of $49,148 per year for four years. The grant review is the Minnesota State Arts Board most rigorous process, evaluating the effectiveness of Austin Area Arts’ programming, administrative functions, public benefit, and ability to engage and serve Minnesotans while meeting identified outcomes.

The Austin ArtWorks Festival brought in 67 exhibitor artists, a record in the seven-year history of the event and a 20 percent increase over previous years. Both these accomplishments reflect years-long efforts to provide quality arts experiences to artists and the public and are great benchmarks of success.

Our view of 2018 isn’t complete without some stories. In March, Austin Area Arts hosted a gallery exhibit of art created by 17 Cedar Valley artists. These artists have developmental disabilities and extraordinary creative abilities. Over 200 people attended the opening reception and $1,180 in artwork sold to the public. Austin ArtWorks Center normally collects a 35 percent commission fee for art sold but that fee was waived for the Cedar Valley artists. In May we screened the movie “Wonder,” a story of a boy with facial deformities entering mainstream school, for the Ellis Middle School Peer Power Partners group at the Paramount Theatre.

Peer Power Partners is a school activity for students with disabilities and their same-age peers that focuses on building awareness and social ties. In November, our annual Members Show opened in the second floor gallery of the ArtWorks Center. The influence of the 2018 ArtWorks Festival Featured Artist, Michael Sweere, was apparent with an increased amount of collages and mosaics on display. A patron viewing the show decided to purchase a painting and upon reading the tag realized that the artist was his teacher in elementary school.

Overall, Austin Area Arts is proud of our efforts and successes in leveraging the power of the arts to change lives and the community in 2018. You can bet we’ll keep working to grow and improve in 2019, because art works for Austin.

Coming soon at the Paramount Theatre

  • $5 Movie: “Fail Safe” at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 2
  • $5 Movie: “Bullitt” at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 9

Coming soon at the ArtWorks Center

  • Clay Handled Mugs with John Sullivan: 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 10
  • Gallery Opening: Minnesota Black Fine Art Show: 5-7 p.m. on Jan. 11
  • Family Art Studio: 1-3 p.m. on Jan. 12