Why art is smart for the agriculture business and recruiting efforts

Candace Krebs
The Ag Journal
“Heart of Harvest,” a 60-foot mural painted on a Limon grain bin by Audrey Sayles, Kayla Ravenkamp and Staci Beauford, brightens up the town and provides an example of how the arts can be strategically integrated with business to make rural communities more vibrant, according to Meredith Badler, the deputy director for Colorado Business Community for the Arts.

Anything from a pizza box to a grain elevator can be a canvas when businesses and rural communities open their eyes to the creative potential that exists for capitalizing on the talents of local artists to enhance customer loyalty, improve creative problem-solving and contribute to healthier, more vibrant communities.

Meredith Badler, deputy director for the Colorado Business Community for the Arts, talked about optimizing the intersection between the arts and business during a recent webinar hosted by Pro15, an advocacy group for Colorado’s northeastern counties.

Thinking strategically about how to blend the two spheres feeds tourism and the arts at a time when both have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, she said.

“Arts venues were the first to close, and they will probably be the last to open,” she said.

Based on a conservative estimate, Colorado’s $15.6 billion creative sector shrunk by at least a third last year. The arts are said to account for 4.5% of the state’s economy, more than transportation and mining combined.

Like agriculture, the arts have a big multiplier effect. For every dollar spent on arts programming, another $15 to $30 is spent on indirect items like gas and food, creating more economic activity in communities of all sizes, Badler said.

Supporting artists doesn’t always have to take the form of financial donations, she emphasized. She gave the example of America’s Mattress of Western Colorado, a three-store chain based in Montrose, which put its unique resources toward helping with behind-the-scenes logistics of staging live events.

“Think about what you have at your disposal,” Badler said. “They have large vans and people who are good at moving very large, heavy and awkward things. That is a resource, and something the performance community needed, so there’s a match there.”

Pizzeria Locali, a small chain of Denver area restaurants, commissioned visual artists to decorate their pizza boxes in addition to donating pizza to local art and cultural events.

“I had never thought of a pizza box as a canvas, but that’s what they’re doing,” Badler said. “Printing a poem on a pizza box? Talk about setting yourself apart. When you think about it, there are endless possibilities to make a minimal investment for a huge return.”

Last year in August, the CBCA hosted an Arts + Agriculture Forum to highlight some examples of how that approach can work for rural or agricultural enterprises. Some Girls and a Mural, for example, took the idea of painting murals for urban renewal to new heights when they transformed a large grain bin in Limon into a tribute to area farm families.

Audrey Sayles, the artist who co-owns and operates the company with Kayla Ravenkamp and Staci Beauford, spoke during the forum about how the 60-foot mural, “Heart of Harvest,” drew an explosive response on social media, generating 129,000 page views overnight, and resulting in dozens of local commissions involving items as small as a book and as large as a wind turbine blade.

Now their dream is to continue the project by raising the funds and logistical support to complete similar murals on multiple grain elevators along the I-70 corridor.

Jack’s Solar Garden, of Longmont, recruited artists to help tell the story of their innovative farm model. The 24-acre site is believed to be the largest commercially active agrivoltaics system in the country and is partnering with Sprout City Farms, an urban agriculture nonprofit, to grow fruits and vegetables under solar panels.

“Since it’s never been done before, we teamed up with a watercolorist to create images of what it would look like,” said owner Byron Kominek during a presentation he made after winning an arts and business award from CBCA.

That has since expanded into an artist-on-the-farm program, which provides engagement with the local community and helps get the public excited about the farm and its mission.

“In 2021, they will have a performance artist, so I’m excited to see how that works out,” said Badler, who is a performance artist herself.

According to surveys, 76% of companies that invest in creativity report having happier employees. More than half say the arts stimulate creative innovation and problem solving. And 55  of manufacturers view the arts as helpful for recruiting and retaining employees, Badler said.

As a way to create stronger ties with customers and build customer loyalty, the arts are an affordable option, with residual benefits for communities as a whole, she added.

It’s all about aligning value, finding mutual benefit and promoting community engagement.

“Cultural vibrancy strengthens community vitality,” she said.

The four-member staff at CBCA is currently recruiting business and civic leaders for a growing peer-to-peer network that will champion arts integration statewide. To learn more about their resources and programming, go to CBCA.org.