AS mnartists.org RACES WITH A FULL HEAD OF STEAM INTO A NEW YEAR, we've got lots of exciting things in store for our state's artists and arts lovers alike. With well over 10,000 registered artists and tens of thousands of pieces of work stretching across the spectrum of creative disciplines and with more arts programming, in-depth writing, new series in fashion, fiction, and music, and more artist opportunities now than ever beforeI think mnartists.org (and its vibrant community of member artists) has definitely earned some bragging rights.
All of which makes my letter to you today a bittersweet occasion. After three years and eight months of serving as mnartists.org's Project Director, the time has come for me to move on. Before I do, though, I want to share with you some of what I've most appreciated about my time with mnartists.org.
IT'S THE ARTISTS, OF COURSE
First and foremost, it is the talent and dedication of the artists that has moved me. The sheer number of distinguished artists working in every discipline, hailing from every corner of the state is staggering. Over the course of any given day, among the new work to appear on the website I find something beautiful or unusual or funny or compelling. Based on what I see every day, Ive been moved to buy several pieces of art and inspired to attend performances. The articles have so engaged me that I've been spurred to email a writer for a private conversation about an issue they've raised or an insight they've shared. And, every week, I've had occasion to meet face-to-face with artists and talk to arts administrators, arts lovers, and those interested bystanders who just want a bit more introduction to what's going on in the arts in Minnesota. I've loved every minute of these privileged opportunities to meet and talk with artists and to promote the amazing work coming from the artists working throughout our state. This has been the very best part of my job.
From the time I began working with mnartists.org in July 2004, mnartists.org has grown from around 3,000 members to now way over 10,000 members. That dramatic increase in artist and organizational participation is an eloquent testimony to the value of mnartists.org to artists statewide; we've also seen a corresponding increase in visitors who are spending time on mnartists.org. In 2004, approximately 20,000 unique visitors visited the site over a month's time; consistently for the past two years, the number of visitors to mnartists.org has increased to more than 100,000 every month. I take this as powerful evidence of the value this site brings to the greater arts-interested community, here in Minnesota and beyond, as well.
A SMALL, BUT DEDICATED CREW
I'm also thankful for the arts writers who contribute to mnartists.org's online publications, whose words are worth more than we can pay them. Our writers, with connections throughout the state, contribute some of the finest arts writing anywhere on- or off-line. Ann Klefstad, founding editor of mnartists.org, built up an erudite and impressive roster of writers and gave voice to the Minnesota arts scene for over four years. Anns deep understanding of the arts and of the issues important to artists created a valuable archive of the Minnesota arts scene. The current mnartists.org editor, Susannah Schouweiler, was initially brought on to lend her populist editorial vision to the creation of an emailed newsletter which would distill and spread the arts writing and rich variety of work from the main site to a broader audience. Her efforts resulted in the compelling and wildly successful e-magazine, access+ENGAGE. In her current role as editor for the site, Susannah continues to define a unique and engaging perspective on the arts in Minnesota by adding a wide range of voices to the writing on the site and by spearheading new partnerships and initiatives to further broaden the audience for Minnesota's thriving arts scene. Susannah has a rare combination of talent and organizational skills (not to mention a great sense of humor) that has made my job unbelievably enjoyable and so much easier.
Working with Colin Rusch, the original (very original!) Community Liaison for mnartists.org, was inspiring. He galvanized the fledgling membership of mnartists.org with all the skill and verve of a grassroots neighborhood organizer; by example, through engaging artists in intellectual dialogue in our online forums, he showed the full promise and potential for substantial, dynamic conversation in this budding artistic community. His community-building efforts certainly smoothed the path for me. Will Lager, the site's current Community Liaison, took up Colin's mantle and has provided mnartists.org with improvements in our service to members by implementing new community forums, leading registration workshops; his New Media savvy benefits mnartists.org members daily, as he navigates them through all matter of technical difficulties on the site. His cool head and calm attention to detail is a quality I wish I had, or at least, that I wish I could bring with me.
SPREADING THE WORD
When I first read the job description for mnartists.org Project Director, years ago, everything about this position seemed a good fit for me and for the skills I could offer except for the phrase "should be familiar with on-line projects. Four years ago my understanding of how to use the web extended to the occasional, Google search and basic emailing. So when, fantastically, I was hired (based on my entrepreneurial skills and marketing ability, Im sure) I could identify with the user experiences of many of our member artists. I overcame my own technological barriers, as have many of our artists; but the experience has given me a deeper appreciation for the value of offering hands-on technical assistance, in person, to artists from around the state who find themselves in need of some expert guidance in using the web resources of mnartists.org, whether it's help simply loading their work onto individual artist pages, or posting an event to the member-driven calendar, or navigating through the complexities of the software available to them.
To this end, weve held over 75 artist registration workshops around the state, many of them in partnership with, Springboard for the Arts and the regional arts councils. As a result of these technology workshops, we've been able to assist hundreds of artists in every region of the state to upload their work to the site and to utilize mnartists.org to their greatest benefit. Through these artist registration events we have also been able to collaborate with like-minded organizations to increase the diversity on the site culturally, artistically, and geographically. Helping artists in this way has been one of the most meaningful, rewarding aspects of my job.
WE'RE STRONGER WHEN WE WORK TOGETHER
I realized early on in my position as Project Director, that the fastest way to broaden the reach of the site and, by extension, to increase the audience for our hugely diverse, talented pool of artists and deepen the engagement of the members would be to find opportunities to collaborate and create partnerships with other like-minded businesses and organizations. By bringing in partners like Magers & Quinn Booksellers (and now Artisan Vineyards) we've been able to sustain the What Light: This Week's Poem poetry series, which has brought a poem a week from Minnesota writers to mnartists.org readers for over two years. By partnering with Springboard for the Arts, we're able to bring you monthly Featured Forums and artist workshops devoted to professional development and discipline-specific business help. Working with KFAI Marya Morstad (producer of the long-running broadcast Art Matters), mnartists.org was able to produce eighty terrific Radio mnartists podcasts, in-depth audio interviews of artists around the state with coverage of Minnesota artists unlike anything you'd hear elsewhere. Working with The Rake magazine and Explore Minnesota, we've also been able to publish 10,000 Arts: Minnesota's Creative Quarterly, a print arts outlet that provides further exposure for mnartists.org's contributors and featured artists with distribution of over 75,000 around the state. mplsart.com brings the site Art on the Wall, a series of interviews with a diverse array of collectors, proving that Minnesota artists are as valued as artists anywhere.
Our collaboration with Minnesota Citizens for the Arts resulted in an Art Activism 101 program for new participants of Arts Advocacy Day; and the Minneapolis Central Library works with us to showcase Minnesota artists in the very unique Space 144 display area. Beyond the Twin Cities, mnartists.org works with the Rochester Art Center to produce the Contemporary Art 101 collection series and has partnered with The Green Man Festival in Duluth to highlight Minnesota musicians. The site sponsors programming for the Art Shanty Projects and has even worked to bring Minnesota artists' work to the Mall of America with a three-month exhibition of artwork drawn from the site for display in the mall park (formerly Camp Snoopy). And the hundreds of mnartists.org members who volunteer at our booth during the Minnesota State Fair have helped us promote the site and made the Fair something I, personally, look forward to every year.
Beginning in 2008, we're bringing artists in a variety of disciplines even more opportunities through these partnerships. We've just begun mnFashionFLASH, a series and quarterly competition highlighting local designers, fashion photographers, and stylists, which is coordinated by MNFashion guru Anna Lee and sponsored by West Photo. The site also launched mnSpin, a music series coordinated by DJ Rachel Joyce and sponsored by Summit Brewery and D.E.M.O.. And, beginning in April, look for miniStories, a new short fiction series and competition coordinated by novelist and Electric Arc Radio cast-member Geoff Herbach. Coming soon, we've also got plans for additional series on film and dance that are still in the formative stages of development. On a practical note, we're working with regional art councils around the state to establish an mnartists.org mentorship program that will engage current mnartists.org members in assisting other artists with technical and professional issues.
So, whatever your discipline, I think you'll find that the foundations of programming and support for artists will continue to thrive, regardless of who wears the title Project Director. mnartists.org is fundamentally an online community meant to be driven by youthe artists and art lovers. Future plans for the growth of mnartists.org include the addition of Web 2.0 functionality: features that will allow users themselves more opportunities to engage with the content on the site and participate in online programs. Ultimately mnartists.org is a dynamic enterprisethis site is, at its best, a reflection of the richness you continue to bring to it in the form of your artwork, comments, and creative networks.
Finally, Im thankful to have had the amazing institutional support of the Walker Art Center and the McKnight Foundation. These two organizationsand actually its the people inside the organizations (they know who they are)had the vision and commitment to support local artists and the states arts culture by funding and building mnartists.org and allowing it grow into its own. Next time you find yourself wondering,Whats the Walker done for me lately?--log back onto mnartists.org.
So, now I'm taking what I learned from you and moving over to another web-based projectone that supports and champions young girls and their creative force. But mnartists.org will always be my home page. Im looking forward to watching it to grow and flourish.
Beginning in March, Kathleen will leave her position with mnartists.org to serve as the Chief Marketing Officer for New Moon Girl Media, an ad-free, independent magazine, social network, and media company dedicated to bringing girls' voices to the world.