Constance Alexander: Art, business forge connections through SBDC workshop

Ask any individual or group how creativity affects their business, or how their business incorporates creativity, and then be prepared to sit back and listen. You’ll get an earful.

Such was the case last week, at a workshop entitled “Art Builds Business. Business Builds Art,” conducted at Murray’s Convention and Visitor Bureau. Co-facilitators were Aaron Harned, from Paducah’s Small Business Development Center, and J.C. Phelps, who works out of SBDC’s London office.

Eighteen people — including individual artists, and representatives from local arts organizations and the business community — attended the two-hour session.

Participants were not shy when asked to identify the community’s cultural assets. Murray State University was named right away, along with both school systems. Also listed were Calloway County Public Library, the Farmers Market, Murray Art Guild, Playhouse in the Park, and WKMS.

Local coffee shops and restaurants earned a shout-out as assets that offer both residents and visitors a unique taste of Murray.

Local realtor Gale Broach Sharp summed up the group’s sentiments when she described the spirit of Murray. “This is a caring community,” she said.

Working in smaller groups of six, more targeted discussions focused on the arts as a vehicle for creative collaboration. Rhonda Roso, from Farmington, explained how creative work is her business. Freelance drafting is what she does, but the products she designs actually solve business problems for her clients.

“The creative part is where we feel. It’s almost like the soul of us. The passion,” she declared.

Photographer Patrick Abanathy also spoke about the unique blend of art and business skills he invests in his work, as he covers weddings and business events.

Despite interests in visual art and music, Ms. Sharp, the realtor, was quick to say she did not consider herself an artist. She added, however, that when she acquaints potential buyers with the many assets of Calloway County, access to arts, educational experiences, and programming are essential to her pitch.

Another photographer, Robyn Pizzo referred to COVID as motivation to add more creative aspects to her life. “The pandemic caused me to pivot,” she said, adding, “Now I’m on my third career.”

She mentioned how the use of Zoom during COVID enhanced opportunities for statewide collaboration and communication, making it possible for her to accept a position doing marketing and communication work with a non-profit in Frankfort.

As a parent of a kindergartner during COVID, she also had an opportunity to observe the challenges and benefits associated with early childhood learning. As a result, she is now a candidate for the local school board.

Several times during the workshop, the facilitators referred to the concept of Design Thinking and a book about that problem-solving approach called “Think Again,” by Adam Grant.

The bestseller has been received with enthusiastic acclaim according to the New York Times Book Review:

Intelligence is usually seen as the ability to think and learn, but in a rapidly changing world, there’s another set of cognitive skills that might matter more: the ability to rethink and unlearn. In our daily lives, too many of us favor the comfort of conviction over the discomfort of doubt. We listen to opinions that make us feel good, instead of ideas that make us think hard. We see disagreement as a threat to our egos, rather than an opportunity to learn

If the SBDC has anything to say about it, this kind of thinking can inspire communities like Murray to learn by establishing partnerships that showcase the unique aspects of collaboration between businesses, artists, and arts organizations.

“Design thinking,” Harned explained, “gives permission to come up with ideas that switch us from linear thinking to constant improvement.”

A wealth of ideas for change bounced around the workshop. One participant, for example, suggested conducting a Farmers Market at night, to bring in people less likely to rise early Saturday morning. Additional attractions might include musicians, performers, and more culinary options.

The original concept of Farmers Market would continue, but a whole new crop of buyers and sellers could result.

Another opportunity for creative thinking is Calloway County’s upcoming Bicentennial. Applying Design Thinking to plans for the celebration would incorporate arts programming and activities, with business/arts partnerships enriching the festivities.

The concept appeals to artist Roso.

“When local businesses are aware of, appreciate, utilize, and invest in the talents and products of local artists,” she declared, “everyone in the community benefits and a much-needed positive boost is given to everyone’s quality of life.”

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