Arts December 2, 2014

The Leading Edge

Where Art and Technology Intersect

On a Friday evening during last fall’s annual Wood River Valley Studio Tour, a group of collectors and would-be patrons gathered in the Wood River Fine Arts gallery and listened to owner Tom Bassett describe the process of casting bronze.     

Because the finished piece is often much larger than life, the artist first creates what is called a maquette—or small version—that allows the artist to work out the compositional details. Technology has dramatically changed how the maquette can be “scaled up” to the finished size. What used to take months, measuring by hand with calipers and rulers, can be completed in weeks through laser scanning and computer-aided design. It’s a telling example of how technology intersects with art. And Sun Valley is poised to become a prominent voice in the national discussion of how that interface will define arts and audiences.

Last summer, Americans for the Arts, the advocacy body best known for establishing the National Endowment for the Arts, convened its annual Leadership Roundtable in Ketchum.  

“We want to expand the value proposition for arts,” said Robert Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts. While no one questions the value of technology, “corporate leaders want to know the practical value of the arts before they think about funding. So we tell the story through the prism of money.” The annual economic impact of the arts in the Wood River Valley is estimated to be $10 million.

This was the first time the roundtable program partnered with a community of arts leaders rather than one institution. “Arts leadership in the Wood River Valley is really stellar,” said Marty Albertson, chair of the Sun Valley Marketing Alliance and the driving force behind landing the roundtable. “This event raised Sun Valley’s national profile as a tourist, intellectual and cultural destination. It allows artists and arts advocates in the local community to insert their voices in the national dialogue.” 

 The local planning committee included Suzanne Hazlett, artist, and president and co-founder of the Wood River Valley Studio Tour; Claudia McCain, chair of the Ketchum Arts Commission; Trina Peters, board member of the Sun Valley Center for the Arts and member of the Ketchum Arts Commission; Kristin Poole, artistic director of the Sun Valley Center for the Arts; Gail Severn, owner of the Gail Severn Gallery and president of the Sun Valley Gallery Association; and Jennifer Teisinger, executive director of the Sun Valley Summer Symphony.

They were joined by artists, philanthropists and corporate leaders, including members of The Conference Board, an influential business research firm that provides authoritative data on leading economic indicators. “The Conference Board is a spectacularly powerful organization,” Lynch said. “And they’re saying that the number one thing businesses want in workers is creativity.” 

The roundtable discussions led to four policy recommendations that local leaders are already adopting as way points to further increase arts advocacy.

Participants at the Americans for the Arts Leadership Roundtable.  Left to right: (Front row) Trina Peters, Nora Halpern, Gail Severn, Kristin Poole, Suzanne Hazlett;  (back row) Claudia McCain, Marty Albertson,  Robert Lynch, Jennifer Teisinger. (Photo by Brennan Rego.)

First, the group suggested the use of technology to market the arts to new communities in user-friendly ways. For example, Suzanne Hazlett uses social media as a way to promote the Studio Tour and to attract visitors into the studio so they can experience the making of art. “We want to create personal experiences that will engage people,” she said. In addition to organizing presentations such as Bassett’s, Hazlett reached out to new constituencies by providing transportation for senior citizens and creating a virtual tour online.  

A second point of action was to identify ways to embed the arts industry into the corporate ecosystem and culture: specifically, tech companies who use a creative workforce. “In the Wood River Valley, we have a lot of connections to Seattle and the Bay Area,” Hazlett explained. “Many of those tech companies have major art collections.” In one example of embedding arts into the corporate ecosystem, Lynch cited the Kohler Company, the first company to make plumbing fixtures fashionable. “For 40 years, Herb [Kohler, Jr.] has had artists in residence at the plant in Wisconsin,” Lynch said. “The artists stimulate new thinking, new design and new products. It’s a win-win.”

A third recommendation was to use technology to allow all communities to engage with resources for direct arts education experiences. Poole said the Sun Valley Center for the Arts is planning a project on drones and robots. She wants to bring in Camille Utterback, an artist who garnered a MacArthur Foundation Genius grant for her “digital technologies that create visually arresting works that redefine how viewers experience and interact with art.” Utterback visited the Arts Center in 2004 and told Poole that it was essential for young students to know basic computer programming.

“Utterback said that as a young artist she saw a lot of young men in the tech world but few girls. I’d like to bring her back to work with young women at the high school,” Poole said. “We’d like to find a way to enhance computer programming opportunities for students in the Wood River Valley.”

Finally, the group vowed to further engage the tech community to appreciate and support the arts. “We need to engage and inspire creative thinkers to adopt what we’re trying to achieve here,” Hazlett said. “We want the producers of events such as TED, SXSW and WIRED By Design to introduce the narrative of Americans for the Arts into their events.”

“One of the highlights of the roundtable was seeing the leaders of this arts community coming together for a single cause,” Albertson offered. “The outcome was wonderful.”

Snagging the Leadership Roundtable was a major coup, and the accomplishment continues to pay off. Lynch said he was impressed by the level of community engagement in Sun Valley and has already committed to coming back. 

“My hope is that we have a longstanding partnership with Americans for the Arts and establish Sun Valley as a center for arts development, education and advocacy,” Albertson said.

This article appears in the Winter 2015 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.