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Molding a City to See the Value in Helping Artists Grow

Artist Growth in DSM

May 25, 2021


Diana Wright, Startup Community Builder at the Greater Des Moines Partnership, Siobhan Spain, Director of the Local Artist Workspace at Mainframe Studios, and Beau Kenyon, Composer and Art Advocate in Greater Des Moines (DSM) and Boston, discuss arts entrepreneurship and artists in DSM in the latest Startup Stories podcast. 

Mainframe Studios has finished another floor, adding 58 new art studio spaces in 2021, bringing the number of non-residential workspaces in Downtown Des Moines (DSM) to 131. These spaces are rented by artists and professionals starting their own businesses. Kenyon’s focus is on helping to build a stronger arts ecosystem through research and collaborative practices, including with the Iowa Creative Incubator

The Myth of the Starving Artist

Spain, who comes from a family of artists, says that artists play a resourceful and connected role in our community. Artists will work with the resources that they have in front of them, but they shouldn’t have to. The idea of the starving artist is something Spain wants to see change. Artists can influence the betterment of the community and be gamechangers in the region, and therefore are a resource that should be funded. It doesn’t take huge amounts to help the spark in an artist grow. She calls artists CEOs of their own world and urges the community to view them as thought of as leaders who have a lot to offer to the progress of the region. 

Kenyon discusses aligning working fulltime with trying to be creative. He says the perception that an artist needs to be a martyr for their art is counterproductive and agrees with Spain that changes need to be made in how the community values the process of artmaking. This includes the vision and growth mindset that comes from accessible funding and a creating a city that sees value in growing artists through financial support.

One of the goals for Spain with Mainframe Studios is to make sure that artists never get priced out of Downtown DSM. It’s the little things can make a big difference. Artists can pay as little as $1 per square foot per month to be in a beautiful community space of collaboration that’s made just for them in a bustling downtown area. Spain says we have to lead by example and show artists that they matter to the community. Because arts generate quality of life for a city, Kenyon says this helps determine whether people view the city as a vibrant place and somewhere they might want to live.   

Iowa Creative Incubator

Within the four-month Iowa Creative Incubator that launched in August of 2020, five local artists received professional development from art leadership in the state. The Incubator included individual coaching sessions and cohort workshops. Kenyon says when they created the Incubator, they decided to make it an accessible, diverse and equitable program by not requiring an application fee or resume. There also wasn’t a requirement for academic showing or gallery installation, which can be make programs inaccessible. 

Spain says at Mainframe Studios, there is time flexibility for programming for emerging artists that is part of their formula for success. Continuing the Incubator just needs financial support for the artist stipends, mini documentaries and professional development that make it a well-rounded and valuable asset to the community. 

Watch the trailer for the Iowa Creative Incubator to learn more about the program.

Listen to the entire podcast above or watch the interview here.

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Startup Stories DSM

Startup Stories DSM is a podcast featuring conversations with entrepreneurs who share both their victories and failures on their paths to success. It is produced by the Greater Des Moines Partnership.