WBAA’s Community Voices: Lauren Ehrmann’s ‘The Power of Art in Growing Communities’
In this installment of Community Voices, Lauren Ehrmann shares the influence art has on a community’s well-being.
On a street just off Frankfort’s main square, tucked between a bakery and an empty storefront, sits Frankfort’s only art gallery, Studio 6. On any given Friday or Saturday night, long after the other stores on the square have closed, citizens of Frankfort can still see artists and patrons gathered in the warmly-lit gallery interior. Inside, local art covers the walls and artists sit in armchairs and talk to the gallery’s owner, Wendi Hall, brainstorming ideas for local art events and new projects.
Studio 6 began its life as a pop-up gallery a little over a two year ago, as an initiative to help revitalize downtown Frankfort through art. Hall says part of the inspiration for Studio 6 was that many local artists had talked to her about ideas they had for improving the community through murals and projects on an individual basis, and she hoped that by starting the gallery she could create a “home base” and support system for local artists hoping to improve the community.
Of course, Studio 6 is not the only gallery of its kind. In fact, towns of all sizes have increasingly recognized the power of art to engage and revitalize the community. Arts initiatives have become more popular as communities turn toward art as a means of improving a town’s image and attracting investments and tourism.
A slew of relatively recent research has shown that the effects towns hope to gain from these organizations are not merely optimistic but founded in fact. Increased presence of art in a community has been shown to increase tourism as art events attract outsiders to the town. It also serves to improve the town’s attractiveness to businesses and potential homeowners, who are more likely to perceive a town filled with art as “up-and-coming”. Furthermore, businesses in the creative sector are more likely to relocate to a town which they perceive as having a high population of skilled, creative individuals whom they may hire. Finally, the presence of art in a community improves the self-image and civic pride of the members of that community.
These outcomes, of course, are not guaranteed. Not every effort at arts-based community development succeeds. According to William Cleveland, who has worked extensively in the field, more often than not art initiatives fail not because of a lack of enthusiasm but because of poor communication with partners or the community. A lack of clear goals or clear communication can lead to a lack of interest on the part of the community.
Communication has indeed been the downfall of many community-based art projects before they even began. Growing up as an artist in Frankfort, I have been very connected to the community of artists here. Artists, being creative people, tend to brim with ideas, and in my involvement with the artists in Frankfort, I have been privy to hundreds of schemes, plans, and dreams to use art to engage the town of Frankfort. It seems that every artist I meet has a project or idea to improve the community. But these proposed murals, events, and organizations mostly reside only in the artists’ minds, never to become a reality. Why? Because the dreamers lacked connections to those who could help make their ideas a reality.
Without good communication within the arts community in Frankfort, it was incredibly difficult for someone with an idea to meet others who might be able to help them implement it. Artists are an incredible source of ideas and creativity within any community, but without good communication, that potential will remain untapped.
This is where organizations like Studio 6 step in. By creating a centralized location for artists within the community, Wendi Hall has helped ensure people with ideas can meet each other and begin to cooperate with people who possess the skills they need to start making their plans happen. For example, imagine I were to head over to Studio 6 tonight and chat idly with Wendi about my dream of painting a mural in downtown Frankfort. In a few weeks, another artist may pass through the gallery and mention that they would really like to see more art downtown. Wendi may connect them with me, and now my idle dream of a mural has begun to gain momentum. Without a location or organization where information like that may be shared, however, my idea for a mural would have simply stayed in my head, never connecting with the people required to make it happen.
Already due to Studio 6’s influence Frankfort has begun to see more art and involvement than before. This winter, Studio 6, along with the Frankfort Arts Guild and economic development group Frankfort Main Street, held a festival called Fire and Ice, featuring ice carvers, an ice skating rink, and a beer garden, among other things. And beginning this May, downtown Frankfort will host art walks on the first Friday of every month. This is but the beginning of what could happen as all the disparate ideas that existed individually in our community begin to gain support and momentum. I, for one, am excited to see where art will take us next.
Lauren Ehrmann is a senior at Frankfort High School. She is a professionally exhibiting artist, a member of the Frankfort Arts Council and member of the Tuesday Night Inkers. Lauren is a recipient of the Wells Scholarship and will be attending IU Bloomington in the fall to study art history.