Four Ways Recipients of McKnight Grants Connect Artists with the Public

It's hard to imagine, but long ago, in the very distant past, nonprofits had to promote the arts the old fashioned, non-Facebook way. A chilling thought, isn't? You may not believe it, but you'll have to take our word for it.

So whenever a foundation awards funds to organizations that "model innovation in connecting artists and people," we're intrigued. After all, every organization needs to connect artists and people. Perhaps there are some transferable teachings there. And if the organizations in question promote this connectivity without Facebook? Well, we're all the more impressed.

And so it is with a recent round of grants issued by the McKnight Foundation. The foundation recently awarded 54 grants totaling over $16 million dollars, $580,000 of which went to five small and mid-sized arts organizations in Minneapolis who — you guessed it — "model innovation in connecting artists and people." (But don't be fooled: the foundation supports theater too, as this recent IP story notes.)

So how do these winning arts organizations do it? Well, we investigated further and came away with the following tips and strategies for bringing arts and the public together:

  • Reinvent the experience. "Reading" is, well, just "reading," right? Not so fast. The nonprofit publisher Coffee House Press (CHP), which received $150,000, developed a very cool "Books in Action" program. Its mission: "to publish works that encourage and nurture literary arts beyond the page, highlighting people and organizations working to further interdisciplinary collaborations, reader engagement, and nontraditional means of accessing the reading experience." 
  • Immerse the artist in the community. Similarly, CHP's Writers and Readers Library Residencies Program places readers and writers in residence at public, school, and specialty libraries to create "a body of work that will inspire a broader public to engage with their local libraries."
  • Emulate Disneyworld. For seven years now, the art collective the Soap Factory as tormented visitors with "The Haunted Basement." It's more or less a haunted house, and the set was built by local artists and consists of brilliant (and scary) pieces and figures. The takeaway here: you don't need to terrorize your audiences, just create something unique and interactive.
  • Start your own parade (or something equally cool.) In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre, which received $140,000 for general operating and archival support, has their own annual MayDay Parade. It's entering its 39th year, and easy to see why Minneapolis residents love it. People are encouraged to create their own puppets, attend workshops, and, of course, walk the route. 

So if there's one recurring theme here, it is organizations creating unique, proprietary programs and experiences that necessitate community involvement across Minneapolis. Pretty impressive stuff, all created the old fashion way.

Then again, we're not too surprised. This, after all, the city that brought us Prince.