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Using the arts to think bigger

Dayna Del Val, executive director of The Arts Partnership

I had the recent good fortune to attend the Presidio Institute's Cross Sector Leadership Boot Camp in San Francisco, thanks to a grant from the Bush Foundation.

Every single aspect of this boot camp was astonishing. For three days, I was immersed in challenging, practical, thought-provoking learning with nine leaders from across the country and three facilitators.

We each applied to the program by outlining a problem we wanted to solve through conversations with leaders from government, education, nonprofits, philanthropy and business. I proposed finding a way to build support across these sectors for creating the next physical arts incubator after our two-year contract with Kilbourne Group is up for APT, our current arts incubator on the edge of downtown Fargo.

While I was still in San Francisco, I wrote on Facebook, "So I came to the Presidio Institute thinking I was going to learn how to gather the right people to the table to build a permanent arts incubator after APT, a creative incubator. I am leaving here knowing I was thinking way, way too small. Watch out FM metro, I'm coming home and my mind has been blown."

So what was so small about my thinking?

Somewhere on day two, I swear the proverbial light bulb didn't just go off above my head, it exploded in a shower of bright lights that rained down on me with an astonishing clarity. I realized that perhaps a building might be in the cards, but there's so much more to think about and to develop.

In an instant, I moved from wondering how to raise the capital to build or rehab a building to understanding that what we really need in our community is to think differently — much more expansively.

So what do I want now? I want to make the entire community an arts incubator.

I'm not saying we don't still need buildings. But another building means raising new dollars, and I don't know why we would saddle ourselves with that.

Rather, I want us to activate better the existing art spaces, whether artist studios in garages, basements or performing arts spaces that are dark 25 days out of 30. What can we do with the already existing, and perhaps underutilized, buildings?

I want The Arts Partnership to capitalize on the exceptional art already being created, to help the community continue to collide with the arts — sometimes intentionally and sometimes not. I want to overlay the arts across the entire metro and inside every sector.

You know who benefits from this? Everyone. Artists, business, government, students and the community-at-large.

Not bad for three days at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge. Now, let's get to work. Who's with me?

Dayna Del Val, executive director of The Arts Partnership, writes a monthly column for Variety. For more information on the arts, go to theartspartnership.net.

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