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Banking on KC – Dana Knapp of ArtsKC

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Kelly Scanlon:

Welcome to Banking on KC. I'm your host, Kelly Scanlon. Thank you for joining us. With us on this episode is Dana Knapp, the president and CEO of ArtsKC, the Regional Arts Council. Welcome, Dana.

Dana Knapp:

I'm pleased to be here. Thank you for having me.

Kelly Scanlon:

I'm really excited to talk about ArtsKC. You have a big mission. In fact, it's unleashed the power of the arts. That's really broad. Talk to us a little bit about the specifics there. What does that mean to unleash the power of the arts?

Dana Knapp:

ArtsKC, we believe that the arts and the power of creative self-expression is integral to all we do, societally, personally, economically. And so how our mission is really to drive awareness and educate about the importance of that and what that means, and then also to unleash it. So mobilizing that within our region, community, society at large to improve overall quality of life for all.

Kelly Scanlon:

So you really bring the arts alive. It's not just a painting that you hang on a wall and it's not just a recording that you occasionally listen to. You truly bring it to life and weave it into all aspects of our life if I'm hearing you right.

Dana Knapp:

Absolutely. From graceful aging, to mental health, to bridging divides between cultures, to workforce development and the power of creativity in the innovation, in a business, let's say in Kansas City. One perfect example is tech and startups almost always follow and embed themselves in what is already a vibrant arts and culture community. The two go hand in hand. And it really is a synergy, a natural synergy of creativity and artistry and risk-taking for that matter, that really plays off one another. So you will see in really any community or city that if you have a strong startup, a strong entrepreneurial community, you almost always it was proceeded by a strong arts community.

Kelly Scanlon:

That's really interesting. I've never heard it put quite that way before. So can you give us some examples in Kansas City? Are there certain areas of the city where that is most noticeable or are there certain programs? Talk to us a little bit more specifically about that?

Dana Knapp:

Well, it's interesting as I tell the story of Kansas City out in the larger, I guess, US because Kansas City is held up as a community in a city that has a very, not only vibrant arts and culture ecosystem, but one that was born organically from individual artists community. And so, one can look at the Downtown area and get really excited about the re-emergence of that and the rebirth of the Downtown area and the elevation of culinary and restaurants and tourism and the stadium.

Dana Knapp:

But really if you dig down and look at that and the tech and the startup community that's living just South of Downtown and growing East, if you dial back five to seven years, what you see is the emergence of the Crossroads. What was once a dilapidated neighborhood, the redevelopment and re-emergence of the whole Downtown region was proceeded and I believe prompted by the birth of the Crossroads Arts District. And that all really originated at Leedy-Voulkos gallery and The Dolphin gallery and a few really deep creative, artistic communities and individuals. And so can the arts take credit for the revitalization of Kansas City's Downtown? I think largely and in part it can.

Kelly Scanlon:

So let's stay with that for a minute. I realized that things may have changed a bit because of the pandemic, but prior to that, do you regularly go out and speak on behalf of the Kansas City arts community to other communities? And if so, in what capacity are you doing that? Is it to help them build their communities as well? Is it to help them find ways to leverage their artists?

Dana Knapp:

All of the above. Kansas City is one of several really viewed as vibrant communities. And it has an interesting history because of the Crossroads. And the Crossroads, our district, has a high visibility outside of Kansas City as well. We like at ArtsKC to really build bridges with other organizations, not unlike our own other arts councils, other community-based and arts-based support and service organizations in other cities so that we can learn and better serve Kansas City and better support our arts organizations and individual artists, but also share what we have observed and what we have learned.

Kelly Scanlon:

You talked about businesses just a few minutes ago, and that's one of the things that I find interesting about the ArtsKC organization is that it is a comprehensive holistic approach to art. You do work with the artists and you help them understand how to create awareness and you help create awareness for them, you help them leverage resources, but you also work with the business community on a very large scale. And I think some people would think, "Oh, ArtsKC, they're just working with artists," or maybe they are working with, as you said, similar organizations throughout the country, but a big part of what you do is working with businesses. Talk with us about that.

Dana Knapp:

Absolutely. So I'll back up one step and I'll talk real briefly about our pillars and then I'll drill down on our corporate engagement. So we really focus our practice and our impact in three what we call pillars, a promote pillar, the support pillar, and the advocate pillar of service. And our promote pillar at the root of that is really to drive diverse and representative engagement in the arts. So we do that through just straight up promotion. We have a promotional website called artskcgo.com and that's really helping to elevate the visibility of the arts to the general public.

Dana Knapp:

We also work with arts organizations and individual artists to build their capacity to promote themselves and build their capacity to make informed decisions and drive engagement in their organizations. And we do that through convening, through training. And we are in the process of launching what we called our Audience Development Practice, which has a series of both data-based tools that they will be able to use as well as additional capacity building. So that's promoting not only to the public, but also building the capacity and the infrastructure for our industry to do their own promoting.

Dana Knapp:

Support is really at the root of that is investment. And that is our investment. We demonstrate the value of that through our grantmaking. And so we invest anywhere from $200,000 to $500,000 a year in arts organizations and individual artists on an annual basis. Also embedded in that is connecting and convening. We try to build and reinforce community within our industry so that we can learn from one another and collaborate more effectively so we are continually building community within our industry.

Dana Knapp:

And then last but not least is our advocacy. And we've really focused on that in the last three or four years building an advocacy education and awareness practice. That is, as you might imagine, it's really elevating through education and awareness, the benefit of the arts to a variety of sectors and really how and what those benefits are as well as advocating for the presence, for example, of arts infrastructure and municipal governments, of 1% for art policy, a paid staff within a municipal government that can integrate the conversation of the arts into all kinds of policy, housing policy, economic development, workforce development.

Dana Knapp:

And then last but not least, it really is education and relationship building with elected officials to advocate for public funding. Really reinforcing with our elected officials at a federal state and local level how very important it is to underpin and buoy this industry to the greater benefit. Total economic impact of the arts in Kansas City pre-COVID was $276 million. So it's no small portion of that economic and societal engine that really drives the quality of life for everyone in our community.

Kelly Scanlon:

So to those who would say, "We've got potholes to fix. We've got infrastructure needs. We have all of these other different things that we need to be focused on. Why the arts?" You really can make a very strong economic case for funding of the arts.

Dana Knapp:

Yes, because number one in Kansas City alone is in fact, the third largest employer. If you look at the arts overall as a single employer, the arts employ pre-COVID between 9,000 and 10,000 people. We drive tourism. More than 80% of the people that come to Kansas City either are motivated to come to Kansas City due to the arts and/or participate in the arts when they come here. So we are a driver of an enormous economic engine, and that is tourism.

Kelly Scanlon:

What are some of the big draws when it comes to the arts for tourists?

Dana Knapp:

Well, it's interesting you asked that question because it depends upon who that visitor is. The Kauffman Center with the ballet, some of the ticketed, what we would call more traditional arts, that's a family, that's a demographic that tends to skew more on the older side. ArtsKC has a wonderful live music gallery, individual artists happening in authentic on the street ecosystem. And that's so often that draws a younger demographic, more diverse demographic. We really span the full breadth of the benefit and expanse of art offerings.

Kelly Scanlon:

Explain how you work with local businesses.

Dana Knapp:

ArtsKC has a long history with the business community in Kansas City. And we have relied and partnered with the business community for years to help fund our grantmaking, to help do outreach, and to communicate and telegraph the impact of the arts, not only within the business and corporate community, but to the community at large. What we do specifically to partner and to reach corporate Kansas City, many, many individuals have heard of our awards luncheon. And that awards luncheon is friend building and friendraising, but also advocacy and awareness and celebration. And we annually fill a room of up to 1,000 people to celebrate the arts in Kansas City. And that space at the center is almost entirely filled with the business and corporate community. And so we see that event as that bridge builder of the connection between the business world and their interests and the arts world.

Dana Knapp:

So that's just one small example. A couple of others are we have a program, a very popular program that's called Now Showing. And Now Showing was born out of what we used to call the Business Committee for the Arts. And that's, just as it sounds, it was a committee of business leaders in Kansas City that directly and indirectly supported the arts. And Now Showing was a program that was born out of that, and it really serves to exemplify that connection. So we have a repertoire of about 200 artists and their portfolios all from the Kansas City region. And then we have I think... I don't know how many businesses we have participating now because of COVID, but I think we've had well over 100 to 150.

Dana Knapp:

And what we do is we make available those portfolios and those companies select the art from those options and then we coordinate and install that work in their office space. It sounds pretty straightforward and pretty simple, but what's really great about that is that the artist gains visibility, they often sell work off the wall. We don't take any kind of commission from it, but what it does is it enriches and improves the working environment for those employees. So those are direct connections we make.

Dana Knapp:

Now, the connections that are kind of omnipresent and overall that benefit the corporate and business community with a strong arts ecosystem within the city is the ability to recruit new employees from other communities. One of the leading things that new out of town employees are looking for is a vital arts and culture and environment that they can rest and relax in. And arts and culture and the presence of the arts is at the top of that list. So to have a strong and vibrant arts community allows companies to better and more easily recruit a desirable employees.

Dana Knapp:

And then the other thing is the ability to retain, not only through the richness and vibrancy of the community and keeping those employees plugged into the community, but also through programming, like Now Showing that we host within a company that allows them to offer employee benefits and just keep that environment elevated and connected and rich.

Kelly Scanlon:

You mentioned when we started talking here that art permeates all different aspects of life. Do you partner with other organizations besides corporations to bring art so that it's used as therapy and other applications as well?

Dana Knapp:

Absolutely. We either have or in the process of partnering with organizations that support veterans, for example. And art plays a strong role in a trauma-informed care. So that's one example. Mental health. We fund and support organizations that use art as therapy. For example, Synergy Services, they use art therapy to help support the youth and the homeless youth population, and we in part support that organization. So art therapy plays a real strong role in both of those examples. Arts and aging. We have partnered and have funded an organization that uniquely uses performing arts to help with memory care. And that's a very powerful tool in graceful aging.

Kelly Scanlon:

You have cited several pre-COVID situations and statistics. The coronavirus pandemic has hit the arts community particularly hard. People can't go to concerts, people can't go to museums, at least not in the way that they used to. They can't gather in groups to enjoy them as we have so commonly done. ArtsKC has been at the forefront of partnering with other local organizations to offer assistance during this time, including I believe emergency relief fund, and also to come up with creative ways to keep artists in front of the public. What are some of those?

Dana Knapp:

I will start just by simply saying that overall, financial impact of COVID on our arts community in Kansas City Metro alone is above $20 million and climbing. As time marches on and our theaters remain closed and our museums and galleries have limited access, that economic impact is compounding daily, and lost attendance. With that said, the arts inherently are resilient industry. And so many of those organizations have attempted to really lean into digital and virtual experiences. The challenge that our industry faces, even though they have such a strong drive to connect to their audience because that's really the point, that is not typically a revenue generator. While they continue to perform, they continue to connect, that kind of reclamation of funding is simply not there. So now is as important a time as any for our corporate community, for our general public, and for our municipalities to lean in and step up financially and programmatically support our arts industry.

Dana Knapp:

ArtsKC specifically retooled our programming within about a 10 days to two weeks of the onset of COVID and really elevated our virtual convening. We worked 24/7 for a number of weeks to really self-educate on all the benefits and the resources that were present for our industry. Simple things like digital presentation. How do you access the PPP loan? To is it an EIDL loan or is it a PPP loan that best suits my organization? So we combed our Rolodexes and brought to the table experts. So we really leaned into just making that advice and that information available to our constituents from about March until the end of June.

Dana Knapp:

And then we shifted over and really helped underpin along with other partners, more outreach type support, digital presentation, how do you market and connect with your audiences? So really our aim... And then subsequent to that, really working with a larger Missouri statewide consortium that helped our organizations understand how if they were going to reopen in a limited way, how could they do that safely and have access to everything they needed based on what the CDC recommended to reopen if they chose to do that?

Dana Knapp:

Now, in addition to that, we have offered financial relief. We did and do have a granting program. And so we have proceeded with our granting program and we also partnered with Charlotte Street, the Warhol Foundation, Spencer Art Museum, and Lawrence to do what we called rocket relief. So $1,000 grants to approximately 150 individual artists so that they could pay their rent simply put and put food on their table. We have been hard at work advocating and understanding the state of legislation that uniquely supports our organizations in Kansas City. So that's just a snapshot.

Kelly Scanlon:

One of the creative things that you have done is a virtual First Fridays. And I understand that you're going to be bringing those back in January, aren't you? Just a few weeks.

Dana Knapp:

Yes, we are. So also right at the front end of COVID, we understood that our artists were... It really shut down their ability to connect with their audiences. And we were just coming up on the season where First Fridays was like at the core of the vibrancy of our industry. And so we partnered with an organization called KC Crew and we hosted every Friday, it was almost like a studio visit, if you will, we hosted six artists every Friday, they each had 30 minutes and they took us in using Zoom and oftentimes their phone camera, took us into their studios, both visual arts, performing arts, spoken word musicians. And it was like you were sitting there in their space. It was very intimate. There was chat back and forth. And anyway, it was just a wonderful program.

Dana Knapp:

And we are bringing that back in January. It may be first Thursday, but we have to manage the barrage of events that are out there, but we're going to restart that and we'll be hosting four artists each time. We are talking about bringing in guest hosts perhaps. So we might be able to recruit some local individuals that people are very familiar with to heighten the visibility of it.

Kelly Scanlon:

For people who are interested, you can find those details on the website, correct? At artskc.org?

Dana Knapp:

Yes, artskc.org. And we'll push it out on our social media and do a big splash. So two places, artskc.org, but we will also feature it on our event website, artskcgo.com, which I encourage anyone and everyone to go to artskcgo.com. Not only do we outline all events, but we also indicate those that are in-person and those that are virtual.

Kelly Scanlon:

You mentioned earlier about different ways that the public can engage to support ArtsKC, the Regional Arts Council, some of the other arts organizations through ArtsKC, and the individual artists themselves. Is the best way to engage through the website?

Dana Knapp:

If you go to artskc.org, you will find all the information, advocacy information, our programming, the opportunities, the investment and grantmaking. So artskc.org really outlines the organizational endeavors. That's where you can go to make a donation. So if you invest with ArtsKC, we grant funds directly out to the more than 200 arts organizations in Kansas City.

Kelly Scanlon:

Dana, I am sure that with as much as you have already accomplished, as much as ArtsKC has already accomplished, that someone who is as dynamic and as passionate as you has even bigger ideas. So what is your vision for the arts in Kansas City?

Dana Knapp:

My vision for the arts in Kansas City is that the arts are integral to all elements and facets of decision-making. For example, what if an artist or a creative was setting at the policy table as a particular city for an economic development or a developer is trying to identify how they can redevelop or create affordable housing in Kansas City? Having the arts embedded in projects and programs like that have been proven, it has been proven that they have been more successful. My big wish is that sectors across the region understand the importance of integrating our industry in all that they do. I presented at Downtown Council not so long ago, and one of my calls to action at the end of my presentation was an invite an artist to your boardroom, to your table as you begin to consider your recovery and the reimagination of your business post-COVID. The way an artist or a creative thinks about things and solves problems is new and inventive. And if we as a community could see the value in our industry and integrate it in all that we do, nothing would stand in our way.

Kelly Scanlon:

Well said, Dana. And there are so many opportunities as we emerge from the pandemic to reimagine. Thank you so much for all that you do to bring the arts to life in Kansas City and for representing Kansas City so well throughout the country. We appreciate your time today.

Dana Knapp:

Absolutely. Thank you. I appreciate your time.

Joe Close:

This is Joe Close, president of Country Club Bank. Thank you to Dana Knapp for being our guest on this episode of Banking on KC. The vibrancy of Kansas City's arts ecosystem is recognized nationally. We are home to many visual and performing artists who not only share their creative talents for our enjoyment, but also drive economic vitality, foster innovation, attract tourists, and play a healing therapeutic role for many in our community. The coronavirus pandemic has hit artists particularly hard. Although ArtsKC, the Regional Arts Council, has worked diligently with local organizations to offer assistance, provide emergency relief, and find creative ways to keep artists in front of their audiences, we can all play a role to ensure that our local artists emerge stronger from the pandemic. Country Club Bank is a big supporter of the arts, and we encourage you to find a way to support them too. Attend a virtual First Friday, donate, become an advocate. Be a part of unleashing the power of the arts. Thanks for tuning in this week. We're banking on you, Kansas City. Country Club Bank, member FDIC.