A new Wilmington nonprofit aims to connect the area’s diverse arts community with businesses that support the arts, benefitting both and providing the public with a simple way to contribute to both the artistic community and the local economy.
It’s one of many ways that supporting local artistic endeavors continues to boost economic growth in Wilmington and the surrounding communities, local arts officials say.
Three months ago, Wilmington native and career arts administrator Craig Stinson helped found the Arts Friendly Foundation, a nonprofit organization that sets certain standards for businesses to support local artists and certifying them as “arts friendly.”
Certification, he said, would provide increased visibility for the businesses and the artists they support.
“It’s a certification trademark,” Stinson explained recently. “It’s similar to what the Better Business Bureau and Good Housekeeping do – putting an official seal on an approved business or product.”
To receive the certification, each business owner must complete an application describing the company’s “arts-friendly” values, listing the potential benefits of certification to the business and the community it serves and detailing how the company supports local arts endeavors – everything from providing space to volunteering to giving designated funding.
Right now, some 50 businesses have been certified, and the number is growing, Stinson said. The goal is to create a strong “cohort of businesses branded as working with the arts community,” he added. “In that capacity, there are two audiences.”
The first, he said, is area residents who support the arts and would welcome a means of locating and patronizing businesses that have similar goals.
The second is the tourist market, including “cultural tourists” who specifically visit Wilmington because of its well-known artistic attractions.
“They not only want to visit the galleries, they also need places to eat and stay and participate in other activities, as well,” Stinson said.
With an easily identifiable “certification” seal and online listing, visitors can find the places that share their interest in and commitment to the local arts scene.
Going Local NC on Front Street, an art gallery dedicated to exhibiting and selling the work of Wilmington- area and North Carolina artists and craftspeople, was one of the earliest certified businesses under the program.
“We are all local artists … and many of our artists have been featured on the Arts Friendly website,” owner and manager Michelle Conely said. “It’s great exposure for their work.”
Going Local NC opened a year-and-a-half ago and now includes the work of 94 artists, 60 percent of them from the Wilmington area, with the rest from other areas of the state, featuring work ranging from handmade soaps, plants and stained-glass jewelry to paintings and sculptures.
“When Craig explained what he was doing, I felt it was a great way to help market what’s going on in the arts community,” Conely said.
Stinson is quick to emphasize that several of the certified businesses are not arts-related ventures. Some, like Port City Auto Care, show their commitment by offering discounts to local artists. Others, like Wilmington Wine, display local artwork on their walls, providing an outlet and support to visual artists.
When a large, identified and certified business community is in place, the Arts Friendly Foundation will begin pursuing its second goal: creating a funding source specifically for local arts that is simple to obtain and utilize.
“In the second phase, certified businesses can help raise money for foundation projects,” Stinson said.
But unlike other types of grants that specifically delineate how the funds are spent, Arts Friendly grants would be distributed evenly among the recipients and allow them to spend it in any way that is needed – including space rental or construction.
This type of economic commitment to the arts can have a significant impact on the region’s economic health, said Rhonda Bellamy, executive director of the Arts Council of Wilmington/New Hanover County.
In fact, a recent, nationwide arts study, Arts & Economic Prosperity V, showed a $55.8 million yearly economic impact of arts funding in New Hanover County.
According to the study, nonprofit arts organizations spent more than $14.8 million in 2015, and cultural audiences spent nearly $41 million — resulting in $44.1 million in residential household income, nearly $3 million in local government revenue and $2.7 million in state revenue.
“Clearly, we have the ability to build even greater capacity in this robust sector of our local economy by increasing local giving to the arts,” Bellamy said.
Americans for the Arts partnered with 250 local, regional and statewide organizations that represent the study regions, including the Wilmington arts council.
As the lead agency for the arts in southeastern North Carolina and the designated county partner to the state arts council, the arts council provides more than $65,000 to artists and arts organization each year, Bellamy said, emphasizing that the council grants “its entire appropriation to local arts organizations, retaining none of the funding for our own operations.”
In addition, the arts council also administers Regional Artist Project grants to artists in New Hanover, Brunswick, Pender and Columbus counties with support from the N.C. Arts Council and arts partners in each county.
The Arts Friendly Foundation plans to expand its reach to the surrounding counties as well.
The Landfall Foundation last year provided $92,500 in grants to 22 local arts organizations and also sponsors an annual juried art show and sale for North Carolina artists.
This year, the Women’s Impact Network will focus its philanthropic efforts on the local arts community, Bellamy said. The organization plans to award one $50,500 impact grant as well as several smaller grants.
From galleries to community theater to arts education for children, Wilmington and the surrounding areas boast a variety of avenues for the public to support the arts community, and organizations like the Arts Friendly Foundation want to maximize the economic impact of that support.