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Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

Arts leader from Salina, where art is a city department, shares stories of success with Lawrence

April 25, 2013

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Brad Anderson, executive director of Salina Arts and Humanities

Brad Anderson, executive director of Salina Arts and Humanities

When Brad Anderson interviewed for his job, he looked for assurance that he and his department would be given the same importance as Salina’s other city departments, such as police and public works.

Confident he wouldn’t be regarded simply as an “add-on” or “icing on the cake,” Anderson took the job and has been at it two years.

What’s Anderson’s department? The arts.

Anderson is executive director of Salina’s Arts and Humanities Department, where he oversees 14 employees and a $1.1 million budget to execute the department’s mission of promoting public awareness of and interest in the artistic and cultural development of the city. Salina established its Arts and Humanities Commission in 1966.

“The arts are valued as an important part of the city,” Anderson said. “I’m at the same table as all of those other directors.”

About 45 people turned out to hear Anderson speak Thursday night at the Union Pacific Depot. The Lawrence Arts Roundtable planned the event with the idea that learning more about Salina’s organization of the arts could spark ideas Lawrence could use.

A position like his is rare in Kansas, Anderson said. He said he knew of just one similar employee, a county arts administrator in Wichita.

Anderson said that while every community is unique, Salina — with a population of about 50,000 — would not be able to achieve what it has without city staffing, especially when it comes to organizing a festival the size and quality of Salina’s Smoky Hill River Festival.

Art is the festival’s main focus — there’s a fine art show, craft show, artist demonstrations and hands-on art activities for children — and a big seller. Anderson said attendees bought $450,000 worth of art in three days during last year’s festival.

Some other things Salina’s Arts and Humanities Department does:

• Maintains an online directory of local artists and cultural organizations, as well as an online calendar of arts events, which the department promotes through weekly email blasts.

• Converges a monthly meeting of the city’s Cultural Arts Roundtable, a group of directors from all of the city’s arts organizations.

• Coordinates and implements Salina’s long-range cultural plan.

• Helps administer an arts education program in public schools. Anderson said the school district gives his department $15,000 a year for this.

• Measures and tracks arts impact data, such as attendance and ticket sales.

• Works with the media. Anderson said he contributes a column to the Salina Journal a couple times a year and that his staff is readily available for media requests.

“We don’t think of it as a place just to get free stuff, we also buy ads,” he said. “The media are very important partners for us to share that information.”

The Arts and Humanities Department is not without foes in Salina, Anderson said. It’s been the subject of nasty letters to the editor and social media messages by people who disagree about the importance of the arts.

Anderson said he’s aware not everyone will like what his department does. Instead of focusing on converting those people, he said, it’s more effective to build support from the inside out. His strategy is to cultivate deep roots with the most loyal arts supporters, then work out in “concentric circles” to get more people on board.

Anderson said a successful arts organization would look different in every city.

“Each community must find its own path and capitalize on its own assets,” he said.

Comments

Lawrence Morgan 1 year, 5 months ago

As usual, I can't do this article justice. Sara points out many important points of Mr. Anderson's job. I can't recall any other city in Kansas that has this position. It could be terribly important, both now and in the future.

Lawrence needs to go in this direction, but I don't see the willpower, so far, in the present Mayor or City Commission. Sports are all-important and have been so for many years. But it isn't the Jayhawks who pulled ahead this year, but the Wichita Shockers. But that isn't necessarily the point of view of lots of townspeople in Lawrence. Other things - including art - also take an important role, and this includes tourists who visit Lawrence.

Hopefully, this kind of article will help change people's minds.

It would be good if some great photographs could accompany this article, as well.

I have pushed for a long time for other parts of Kansas to be included on a daily basis in the Journal-World, but with very little effect. It is as though the Journal-World operates on a very small time frame, and is not willing to take in the entire community of Kansas, where there is much we could learn from other towns throughout Kansas - and that goes in the opposite direction, as well.

If Kansas wanted, we could make all of Kansas a tourist state to visit -and not just Lawrence. But that doesn't seem to be a likelihood with the present City Commission or the Journal-World, and it was even less so with the previous City Commission.

Will it change in the future?

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