On Saturday, February 11th, over 100 artist-entrepreneurs from around the state gathered in Flatwoods for a “Think Tank” led by the Tamarack Foundation for the Arts. 

As part of this Think Tank, the WV Center for Civic Life invited participants to consider “What’s Next for West Virginia Artists?” This conversation, led by WVCCL board members Natalie Roper and Kent Spellman, followed the familiar What’s Next, West Virginia? structure. Artists discussed “Where Are We Now?” “Where Do We Want to Go?” and, “How Will We Get There?” Then, they mapped the viability of their ideas.

Several themes emerged: access to broadband was unanimously important—not only fast speed, but also affordable internet services. West Virginia’s low cost of living and doing business was repeatedly cited as a strength, as well as the resiliency of her people. However, artists felt they were not taken seriously as business people here, and some related career paths, such as art therapy, did not have as much credibility here as in other states. 

Importantly, every small group in the discussion recognized the need to develop relationships with elected officials, including educating them about the economic impact of the arts in WV. Other ideas for progress included: conquering geographic distance by creating juried galleries--instead of juried artists; bringing art into spaces it normally doesn’t exist; doing art in public; and creating community-based arts camps and after school programs. 

Participants were energized and excited at the end of the dialogue. Some even took action steps towards change during the conversation, circulating sign-up lists, instead of waiting until after the Think Tank. The Tamarack Foundation for the Arts will use ideas and goals generated by this What’s Next? conversation to inform their work in the coming months. 

Photos of the event courtesy Tamarack Foundation for the Arts and 84 Agency.