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A Conversation With ... Leslie Forrester

Executive Director, Springfield Regional Arts Council

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What’s the mission and vision of the Springfield Regional Arts Council?
We were established in 1978. One of the biggest focuses was the duplication of efforts, so one of the roles the arts council still plays today is an organization to coordinate and find ways that we can share resources. Arts education is a major priority for what we do. We have the Any Given Child program through the Kennedy Center to ensure every student grades K-8 has an arts experience. It really has grown to help focus on supporting artists of all types.

Artsfest is the SRAC’s signature event. What has the festival accomplished for arts in the community?
This will be year 39. It has grown from maybe 40 or 50 vendors to average about 130 artists. It’s a really great gathering place for the community. It’s also a great opportunity to experience art and art buying. We aim to make it as accessible as possible. You get to know the person behind the beautiful painting that’s going to be hanging in your living room. When you’re talking about buying true art, that’s half of what you’re buying is that investment in somebody who has started their own small business. Artsfest is a very large chunk of how we fund our programming. Twenty-five percent of our budget comes from that festival.

How would you gauge the health of the arts in the community in terms of support and the number of working artists?
I think Beth Domann [executive director of the Springfield Little Theatre] says it the best when she calls Springfield “a freaky vortex of talent.” It’s really incredible for a community of our size to have the level of talent and the number of arts organizations that exist here. The numbers continue to be strong attendance-wise, [and] people who are purchasing art continues to grow. We have seen our artists’ numbers continue to grow. The symphony has had several years of record-breaking numbers and the art museum had their best year ever last year. We did our first economic impact study a couple of years ago. In that report, we found that the Springfield arts … have a $26.9 million economic impact on our community.

Does the SRAC help facilitate sales of local art?
[In] 2018, $20,840 worth of art was sold directly through the SRAC. Seventy-five percent of all SRAC sales goes to the artist and the remaining 25 percent stays with the SRAC to cover costs. We hired a part-time person specifically for building corporate partnerships to encourage more local art on display in businesses. She’s been cataloguing artists and what kind of artwork is available. If you have a specific color palette or a theme or you want all abstract [art] or you want no abstract, she’ll create a customized catalog for a business to select artwork. That can be purchased outright, but it also can be rented from the artist. We start to move away from a model of giving artists exposure to moving into a model of understanding art as a commodity, as something that is a valuable piece. We would not ask our plumbers to fix our toilets for exposure or our accountants to do our taxes for a plug on social media.

How will the mural project Chroma benefit the city’s art scene?
Chroma is actually going to operate under our umbrella. It started with Dan Malachowski, a local financial planner, and an incredible arts person. He saw a similar program out of Lexington, Kentucky. Chroma is going to hopefully be demonstrating that we’ve got incredible local muralists, but why not bring in some talent from elsewhere to experience those kinds of arts and potentially other cultures. His plan, I think, is to do two or three murals around downtown in the next year.

Leslie Forrester can be reached at leslief@springfieldarts.org

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