Americans for the Arts suggests how arts and local business can collaborate for prosperity.

Our next public discussion on Blues, Arts, Culture and Community will be Wed. Aug. 9 , 6 to 8 Gone Again Travel and Tours, 5940 W. Chicago Ave.

At the July 12 forum we had a room full of brain power, with guest speakers Camille Wilson White, director of the Oak Park Area Arts Council and Valerie Leonard , nonprofit and community development consultant

People were scribbling fast, trying to grasp all their words about what an arts organization can do, and how to organize a nonprofit.  

What’s the fuss about?  Here’s what: you can improve communities with cooperative efforts of arts and local small business.  Economically, here are the facts, researched by Americans for the Arts:

The nonprofit arts and culture industry  nationally has generated supported 4.13 million full-time jobs, and generated $86.68 billion in residential household income.

Arts and business can be very powerful working together to brand and market a community around its local culture and history.  Small towns often start with a famous person who is born there.  Not only does this branding make people in the hometown or neighborhood proud, it can be interesting to tourists.  This is called Asset Based Community Development, or ABCD.

But it has been underplayed these days in predominantly Black communities, whose rich cultural/business infrastructure was wiped out by heavy-handed urban renewal programs and highway building in the 1960s and 70s.

One of the assets of the West Side, as we’ve pointed out in this column and discussed in the June 7 community meeting, is the BLUES. 

Local arts groups can take many forms. Some are government affiliated, others are citizen-based nonprofits.  Some take the name of arts only, others are arts & business.

How do people start an arts council or similar group?  First, says Americans for the Arts, do your homework, such as:

    •    Familiarize yourself with legal requirements to start a new organization.
    •    Political climate: how are community leaders supporting arts and culture?
    •    Pinpoint monies that are used or could be used.
    •    Conduct a census of arts organizations and artists who live or work in the community.
    •    Look for people who support the community significance of arts and culture.
    •    Attend meetings. Listen to what is being said and by whom about the arts and the community.
    •    Find the community’s priorities: how does arts and culture fit in?
    •    Contact the staff at Americans for the Arts, which assists local arts agencies.

Ways to carry out these and other ideas may be on the agenda in the Aug. 9 meeting. The focus is on Austin, but anyone interested on the West Side, and other communities, is invited.  The event is posted in the Facebook group Blues, Art and Culture for West Side Tourism

"Barrelhouse Bonni" McKeown, the author of "West Side Blues Blog," has played piano and written about blues music for over 15 years.  She has led classes for young and old on...