Keeping the arts alive: Local non-profit digs in when times get tough

Photo by Eric Boyd/Fall River County Herald-Star

The sun shines through the front displays at The Chautauqua Artisans Market. The store remains open to the public and is thriving due in part to grant funds from Arts Midwest and collaboration with other regional arts organizations. 

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By Eric Boyd

Staff Writer/Photographer

HOT SPRINGS – The Chautauqua Artisan Market is celebrating its fifth year serving the local community as both retail marketplace and fledgling folk-school. As with most small-town, arts-focused organizations, 2020 was a challenging year.

In March of 2020, board members of the non-profit, Chautauqua Craftsman and Artisans of the Black Hills (CCABH), decided to temporarily close its doors to customers as a precautionary measure at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Volunteer hours were cut to zero. All educational classes were canceled until May.

In late May 2021, marketplace hours and class schedules resumed but with little interest from the area. With very few options but to close their doors, CCABH decided to staff the Chautauqua Artisans Market with a skeleton crew and devote their efforts toward business development and fundraising---specifically, writing for grants.

Ina Winter, then board member at CCABH, worked with board Chair, Terry Slagel to apply for a grant through Arts Midwest. If awarded, the funds would be used to support Chautauqua’s efforts – a lifeline to ensure the organization could not only stay open for business, but thrive going into 2021.

Based in Minneapolis, Arts Midwest is one of six non-profit, United States Regional Arts Organizations directly supporting groups like CCABH through awarding grant funds and providing a host of other resources. Arts Midwest serves a nine state region of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

In December of 2020, a $10,000 Arts Midwest grant was awarded and made available to the CCABH. The grant was part of the multi-million dollar United States Regional Arts Resilience Fund. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and an anonymous donor provided these funds to assist under-resourced, arts-focused community organizations during the pandemic. 

“We were thrilled when we were awarded the grant,” stated Winter. “The arts are extremely important to our community. We have so many artists who need our support.”

CCABH Chairperson, Terry Slagel, considers the Arts Midwest Grant Award a major change of momentum for the non-profit. Since December, Chautauqua Artisans Market has used grant funds to accomplish a variety of goals, all focused on reenergizing their efforts and reimagining their approach to supporting local artists.

“It’s exciting to see some things come together after four years of really feeling hidden, or unseen as an organization. It’s validating to have written for quite a few grants over the last few years and really trying to get our name out and have people know that we’re here, to get the marketplace up and running...to finally feel that we’re being seen as an art organization, being noticed by people from around the state, asked to take part in things...I think that’s nice,” Slagel says.

As representative for the CCABH, Slagel has been attending virtual discussions organized by the South Dakota Arts Council and Arts South Dakota. These state wide talks have focused on how the arts add to South Dakota’s community cohesiveness.

“There was a lot of conversation around collaboration and how very important that collaboration of all of our non-profit groups, art groups, our city government, economic development, chamber of commerce, those who represent our schools, all have to be there, all have to be representatives at the table to figure out how to make our community strong, viable, exciting, and healthy. They all have to be there recognizing each other as important players,” Slagel says.

She adds, “Another piece that came up was, just how important the arts are to tourism… people are coming to places that are showcasing art and artisans, places where they can take classes, have lifelong learning opportunities, where their children can have classes or where their families can come together for generational learning.”

Slagel believes the fact that these discussions are taking place at a state level is a good sign the CCABH is on the right track. By investing time and resources back into the Chautauqua Marketplace, the CCABH hopes their educational programming as a folk-school will also begin to pay off on a community level.

Jennifer Robistow is the new Marketplace Manager at Chautauqua. The CCABH was quick to develop Robistow’s role to both meet customer needs, in-person and online, and to solve a lasting problem plaguing many volunteer based operations--lack of available workers.

“I think that if we can boost revenue enough so that we can support some paid employees rather than relying on volunteers and if we can get our education department up to a [self supporting] level...I think it will get our name out to more people. It’ll give us a more substantial footing in the community,” Robistow says.

Previous to the grant monies awarded by Arts Midwest, CCABH had already found success accessing resources focused toward helping rural community arts. An opportunity to work with Mitchell-based Innovative NonProfit allowed CCABH to better realize key business strategies through working directly with the CCABH Board of Directors.

This opportunity was possible due to a $3,000 Capacity Building Grant awarded to CCABH by the Black Hills Area Community Foundation in late September of 2020.

Recently, in March of this year, CCABH was selected to work with the Coyote Business Consulting Group, a student-faculty initiative with the University of South Dakota’s Beacom School of Business.

The Coyote Group worked closely with the CCABH to redesign key branding elements (new logo and graphic elements) for the Chautauqua Artisans Market. A new website and online marketplace, purpose built by USD students, went live on June 1st.

Syliva Trotter, CCABH Vice Chair via Facebook on June 11, 2021: “Students Ryan Anderson and Madison Stevens have devoted valuable time, effort and know-how into our logo and website transformation. We are most grateful for the dedication, and that of their faculty advisors, in meeting our needs for a more interactive online presence.”

CCABH is currently applying for additional grant funds to support new and more robust educational programming, a goal that the non-profit has had since their creation in 2016.

Trotter and CCABH board members are hopeful their efforts will continue to bear fruit, not only for Chautauqua but for the community of Hot Springs and area artists.

Trotter says, “Chautauqua Craftsman and Artisans of the Black Hills continue to be grateful for the Arts Midwest grant funding and are energized for the future. We welcome you [the community] back to the marketplace and hope you will join us for one of our upcoming classes or events. We believe all our lives find deeper meaning when art is valued.”

Fall River County Herald Star

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