Last April, I called together the CEOs from our area's larger arts and cultural organizations along with our colleagues from the Frey and Steelcase Foundations to discuss the impact of the recession and how they were all faring. It was a tough meeting. Obviously the topic of budgets that are stretched to the limit was top of mind of those in the group. Money was and is needed! Ultimately the conversation focused on what we all could do together that would rise all ships in this stormy time. Most agreed that their donations and audiences had fallen off due to the difficult economic time and that attention should be drawn to how important the arts are to the vibrancy of Grand Rapids and the region! The community's focus understandably was and still is on trying to meet the immediate needs of people like food, clothing, and shelter. To respond to that, in January 2009 17 foundations banded together to pool more than $2M to address the immediate needs of people in our community. But we also knew that the future of our community also meant keeping the arts alive - not fluff but really focusing on the talents of our community! The discussion went to how we could address the declining revenue issue of our arts and cultural organizations without breaking the back and resources of the foundations in our community. Yes there were and still are some who believe that the foundations should rally to fund the faltering operating budgets of all of our nonprofit organizations. But here's a sobering fact: even if we were to combine all the assets of the foundations, it wouldn't even touch the financial situation of the entire sector particularly over the long term! After many meetings throughout the spring and summer of 2009 with the representatives of the arts and cultural organizations and a very productive focus group session, a plan for a comprehensive marketing effort emerged focusing on all of the arts banding together! A real feat! This effort is being launched this month and is funded by the Grand Rapids Community Foundation. The Arts Council of Greater Grand Rapids will be at the hub of this effort. Working with the creative team of Plenty Creative (thus the name!) and Lambert, Edwards & Associates we are ready to roll! Thanks to the Frey Foundation, the Arts Council is building their strength to host a website showcasing every arts organization and their activities and keep it going! As is noted in the announcement for this huge campaign, "The consensus [of the arts groups] was resounding, that a new marketing effort could help build interest, attendance and membership . . . Grand Rapids has a pedigree for art. It is the creative flagship of West Michigan . . ." What will this entail? A website that is a fresh way to highlight all groups connecting more than 60 diverse arts and cultural organizational in greater Grand Rapids. "The site is a highly interactive destination . . . calendar of events, links to purchase tickets, video and audio components and social media connections." This site will provide the opportunity for all groups to cross-market themselves and ultimately expand their audiences. Other activities and events are planned as well. AND lest you think this is a futile attempt or just a flash in the pan, each and every organization and museum share the responsibility to keep their events and activities in the forefront of our community. In order for this to work, each organization needs to actively participate. The website is live and is found at www.whatsyourartgr.com and is the first-ever, dedicated arts and culture portal for the Grand Rapids region! We need to support the arts as it is a strong link to continued economic growth and development in our area!