Megan Crigger, this year’s closing keynote, took the time to answer some tough questions for our blog. Her answers only make us more excited to welcome her at EALS 2016. Read the following Q & A for details on creating ArtCap, a micro-loan program for artists, the kind of condiment Megan sees herself as, and more. You can read Megan’s bio here.
When you were starting your career, what advice were you grateful to receive?
I would say I’ve learned more through trial and error, and you learn pretty quickly from error. As a city representative – you get to hear everyone’s opinion about both art and politics. The ability to listen becomes your greatest asset – it can dissipate conflict or spotlight areas for improvement. With a plethora of public opinion – you can’t take anything personal, even when it feels very personal. As an arts leader in government, it’s important to know what issues are important to the community and your leadership role is most productive when you orchestrate a platform for conversation and let the arts community take center stage. It’s often considered a thankless job, but the satisfaction comes in the success of arts-friendly public policy.
What can city governments do for arts access and supporting the arts ecosystem?Government plays an important role in ensuring equitable access to the arts. When cities really make arts access a priority, then a comprehensive approach to transportation, planning and zoning and parkland policies become essential to ensure physical, economic and social barriers to the arts are reduced or eliminated. Local arts agencies can leverage funding to arts organizations or through public/private partnerships to provide direct services to underserved populations. We often broker relationships and connect arts practitioners to resources – such as business services to help grow their business, access to demographic and city data as tools to inform marketing strategies, or legislation that can facilitate arts activities in public spaces. But sometimes it’s just a matter of government not getting in the way of the creative community to do their best work!
Your position as Director of Creative Services and your department, the Office of Culture and Creative Services, are both completely new to Kansas City. What has been the most challenging part of leading a brand new department?
The exciting aspect of creating a new City division is that I am able to establish a standard and a precedence for how government can best support the arts. The challenge of creating a new office is also an advantage in that I get to make it up as I go! Prior to my arrival, much talent and time had been invested in a plan for cultural development, so everyone wants to see this office succeed. I’ve been met with overwhelming enthusiasm and support –from the Mayor and City Manager to arts and community leaders. My charge is to see that the community’s vision is realized. It’s really a dream come true! But this means many great ideas, initiatives and projects happening all at once. I believe in putting in the hard work on the front end – like tending, weeding and nurturing a garden that will eventually reap a harvest of deep and meaningful work to last long into the future.
Can you tell us about a current or recent project that you’re most excited about?
I am most excited about finding new and unexpected money for artists! We all know funding for individual artists can be a scarcity. Taking cues from traditional small business support, I worked with a non-profit community development lender to establish a micro-loan program specifically for artists. A lot of the hurdle was breaking through those stereotypes that artists are risky. Putting real professional artists in front of the lender resulted in $250,000 pool of funds that will go straight into the artist community. I’ll continue to look for ways to bring alternative funding sources to KC to build the prosperity of KC artists.
What things do you feel you have to consider differently when curating and managing art in public spaces as opposed to privately managed spaces?
Oh, that’s a big question with so many ways to answer. I’ve worked in public art for the past 18 years. I would say the most important consideration is understanding the audience – the public – and how the art fits within the context and purpose of the public space or interplays with community. A neighborhood park and a street corridor serve unique purposes and are experienced in very different ways. The arts can play role in creating the identity and defining the experience of that place. But regardless if it’s in a gallery or in a plaza, it’s ultimately all about bringing quality works of art to everyone.
What are you looking forward to most at EALS?
Meeting emerging and aspiring arts leaders and hearing all about the aspirations and insights on the future for the arts in this country.
What condiment best describes you?
Oh my, I’m really pretty bare bones. I prefer to get to the essence and heart of the matter. Being from Austin and now in KC, I’m a barbeque girl but with no sauce or frill. What you see is what you get.
If you could have dinner with any famous person, living or dead, who would it be and what would you have?
Gertrude Stein – art collector, modernist, and progressive. We’d dine for hours talking about everything unfit for polite company – art, religion and politics – over rich and heavy la cuisine parisienne.