Follow the (arts) Leader

Improving communities through the power of creativity

To further its goal of becoming a leader in integrating the arts into public life and leveraging the power of the arts to bridge understanding across and within cultures, the Bush Foundation selected 16 organizations over the course of 2015 that solve community issues by harnessing the arts. This Community Creativity Cohort shared how arts and culture can serve communities throughout North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and the 23 Native nations that share the same geography.

Shortly after the Foundation’s Board of Directors established this strategic direction to be a leader in the arts, 2014 Bush Fellow Laura Zabel partnered with Community Innovation program associate and Ron McKinley Philanthropy Fellow Dameun Strange to establish the Cohort. Zabel is the executive director of Springboard for the Arts, a community development organization with a special focus on arts and artists. She says the Cohort was a wonderful opportunity for the Foundation to hear from arts and community development organizations about their power in engagement, leadership and equity.

“The Cohort was useful to the Foundation and to the participants,” she explains. “Having an experience with reciprocal value was really important to all of us, and the organizations in the Cohort took that opportunity to share their hopes, dreams and challenges.”

In 2015, the Foundation chose 2005 Bush Fellow Erik Takeshita to serve as its new Community Creativity portfolio director, overseeing the Foundation’s development and execution of arts-related programming. Takeshita has an extensive background in community development through arts and culture and will use the information gathered by the Cohort to inform the Foundation’s next move.

Takeshita’s passion for advancing the role of arts and culture in community development made the transition from Bush Fellow to Bush Foundation leader a natural one. For Takeshita, a fourth generation Japanese American who grew up in Saint Paul, Minn., the arts were a critical way for him to express himself and feel comfortable as a person of color in the Midwest. Trained as a ceramic artist, Takeshita has championed arts-based approaches to community development for years and deeply understands how important arts and culture are to helping communities thrive.

Takeshita says the 16 organizations selected for the Community Creativity Cohort exemplify the integration of arts into public life and bridge differences in communities. The Cohort is connected by a shared passion for arts and culture and the concern for improving the quality of life in their respective communities across the region.

Whether it’s First Peoples Fund helping artists and culture-bearers generate wealth through their art, or the North Dakota Council on the Arts placing artists in senior care facilities, each organization has a unique approach to the intersection of arts and community. “The through-line is not the discipline, the region, the medium or anything of that nature,” Takeshita explains. “These are organizations doing amazing work and asserting their role as leaders in their community. They recognize that they have a valuable contribution that they can make.”

The value of art in building stronger communities is central to Takeshita’s philosophy and the work of the Cohort. He believes that all art forms have the power to influence public affairs and systemic issues in ways that little else can. “If we want to actually change outcomes we need to be thinking differently­­­—the arts are uniquely positioned for that,” he says.

The Cohort’s insights will continue to inform Takeshita as he shapes funding priorities, strategies and programming. Takeshita says the Foundation hopes to support the creative work organizations do to develop healthy communities. Furthermore, he hopes that this work will be shared beyond the region, showing similar groups around the country what is possible.

“The work we’ve done with the Cohort is not just great for the region, it’s great for the country,” he says. “We are investing in the region, but we want to be a national and global leader, and there’s no reason that we can’t do that.”

community creativity cohort members

Center for Hmong Arts and Talent
A multidisciplinary arts organization that shares the Hmong American experience through the arts.
Saint Paul, Minn.

Children’s Theatre Co.
Engages youth in theatrical productions and educational workshops.
Minneapolis, Minn.

Coffee House Press
Independent book publisher and arts nonprofit.
Minneapolis, Minn.

Duluth-Superior Symphony Association
Shares the gift of music in performances of symphonic music.
Duluth, Minn.

First Peoples Fund
Supports and honors artists and culture bearers.
Rapid City, S.D.

High School for Recording Arts
A place for at-risk youth to express themselves through music.
Saint Paul, Minn.

Intermedia Arts
Utilizes the power of the arts to affect change.
Minneapolis, Minn.

Lanesboro Arts
A group working to revitalize the southern Minnesota town.
Lanesboro, Minn.

The Matthews Opera House & Arts Center
A historic place to enjoy and learn about music.
Spearfish, S.D.

Native American Community Development Institute
Builds strategies to grow communities into prosperity.
Minneapolis, Minn.

North Dakota Council
on the Arts
Integrates the arts into all facets of life.
Bismarck, N.D.

Pillsbury United Communities
Arts-infused social service programs to improve quality
of life.
Minneapolis, Minn.

Theatre B
First rate community theater in a bustling North Dakota town.
Fargo, N.D.

Upstream Arts
Provides arts-related activities for individuals with disabilities.
Minneapolis, Minn.

West Broadway Business and Area Coalition
Works to develop a creative and vibrant arts culture.
Minneapolis, Minn.

White Earth Land Recovery Project
Provides radio programming with White Earth Nation news.
Callaway, Minn.