Goshen City Government Gives Voice to the Arts

Mayor’s Arts Council • The Good of Goshen

From left to right: Gina Leichty, Rafael Barahona, Tim Near, Rafael Chávez Moreno, Mayor Jeremy Stutsman, John Mishler, Zach Tate, Kathy Stiffney, Carrie Lee Bland Kendall, David Kent Kendall, Sunday Mahaja, Shae Miller, and Joni Earl. 

For Goshen area artists, life is good. Really good: The city supports five artist’s guilds, hosts an annual arts tour in November and pottery tour in September, is home to one of the top Americana music performance venues in the country, presents an international film festival each year, and provides an economically viable place for hundreds of artists to live and work full-time.

And very soon, life for Goshen artists is about to get even better.

Making Goshen’s art scene sustainable

In the fall of 2016, Mayor Jeremy Stutsman assembled a team of 12 local artists to form Goshen’s first-ever Mayor’s Arts Council. The idea for the council emerged after the city was awarded a grant from the Community Foundation of Elkhart County and the Elkhart County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. The committee’s purpose is to ensure that Goshen’s arts scene continues to thrive for generations to come.

“Even when you have something that’s successful, you have to work to remind people it’s there,” said Mayor Stutsman. “Our arts culture is already strong, but it can be better. It’s important to remember to focus on the good things in your town. If you don’t focus on them, they could slip away.”

The council is headed by Goshen-area actress, singer, producer, writer, and Kendall Art Gallery co-owner Carrie Lee Bland Kendall. She helped appoint a diverse makeup of local artists to the council.

“We have sculptors, graphic designers, painters, filmmakers, writers, photographers, fashion designers, arts patrons, and more,” said Carrie Lee. “We want to make sure we have innovative and fresh ideas from a wide range of artists with different perspectives.”

From “grassroots” to government

The council is currently in a planning stage until the start of 2017. In January, the council’s projects will be funded by the Live Work Play Grant, a three-year $150,000 grant awarded to the city by the Community Foundation of Elkhart County and the Elkhart County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. The first year of the grant is funding the renovation of the historic Goshen Theater, and the second two years will fund the arts council.

The council’s larger goals are to develop a sustainable way to connect local artists and increase access to art for community members.

“We see the council as an opportunity to ramp up and leverage our arts culture,” said former Goshen City Assistant Planning and Zoning Administrator Abby Wiles. “We want to use it as a way to grow the downtown.”

Goshen’s art scene has been growing steadily from the grassroots level for more than a decade. Artists have established collaborative work spaces, galleries, studios, festivals, and boutiques that create a viable way for them to work full-time. However, some local artists may not be aware of available resources; others may not know how to make their artwork visible; others may lack the technical know-how to establish themselves as business owners. That’s where the arts council wants to step in.

“There’s a culmination of hard work that’s already been put in,” said local graphic artist, owner of R3 Design, and council member Rafael Barahona. “This council is taking the arts to the next level of visibility and creativity. It’s a testament to the collaborative spirit that this city has already embodied.”

Local sculptor, Goshen College professor, and fellow council member John Mishler agreed.

“We have a lot happening in the art world in Goshen,” he said. “This council helps bring it to a more visual level where people can see what artists are doing and artists can come together.”

Arts for everyone

Mayor Stutsman stated that his intent for the council is not to “put reins” on Goshen’s burgeoning arts scene. Instead, he’d like to find a way to feed it.

“There are lots of groups promoting the arts already,” said Mayor Stutsman. “We’d like to put a public face to it and to express that my office views art as important to our region.”

Community members can anticipate the committee’s plan to be released in early 2017. In the meantime, local artists and patrons of the arts can look forward to many years of a thriving arts culture ahead.

Mayor Stutsman stated that when cities strengthen their arts culture, other economic and social sectors grow too.

“If your community members support artists, those community members tell other people, which grows tourism,” said Mayor Stutsman. “When you create things your community is excited about, you have a stronger economy.”

Council members, many of whom are full-time artists, agree.

“Cities are finally seeing that the arts are economically viable,” said Mishler. “In the past, cities thought artists were liabilities. The city of Goshen is on the forefront of realizing they’re beneficial.”

“Often, artists are told they can’t survive as artists,” Mishler continued. “What Goshen is doing is saying that you can be an artist and be a functioning part of the community.”

In addition to offering economic benefit, Bland Kendall adds that a strong arts scene creates an emotional and cultural outlet for the community.

“The arts can unify,” said Bland Kendall. “I see it over and over again at events and in audiences. It’s something you can’t quite articulate, you just have to experience it. You find commonality with people and share spaces with people who may have differing world views.”

“Those are the things that make life so beautiful,” Bland Kendall continued. “Art matters. Culture matters. We want that special experience and opportunity for everyone in the Goshen community.”

That, she says, is why the council exists.

“If your community members support artists, those community members tell other people, which grows tourism.”

“ We want to make sure we have innovative and fresh ideas from a wide range of artists with different perspectives.”

“Our arts culture is already strong, but it can be better.”

Good of Goshen Editor • Liz Shenk
Good of Goshen Photography • Ashley Ganger

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