The Hastings Prescott Area Arts Council is going through a time of change, which includes a new president, new board members and a new arts study that is being compiled to find the economic impact of artists throughout HPAAC’s coverage area and how to best sustain and grow arts culture. Dick Graham, the previous president of the council, and the currently appointed president, Kathy O’Keefe, have been tag-teaming to shepherd the organization to its new reality.

O’Keefe is stepping-in as the leader of the 11-year-old organization. Her first meeting as the lead will be Thursday, Sept. 19.

“He’s handing me this baby and I hope I don’t drop it,” O’Keefe said of Graham and the nonprofit.

Originally, when Graham stepped-down he planned to hand over both the presidency and the project looking into the local creative index. O’Keefe though, didn’t feel comfortable taking control of the nonprofit and the study at the same time. So, Graham is in charge of monitoring the project. Now, even though Graham is no longer the head of HPAAC, he is still involved.

“It’s not like you’re leaving and the door’s closed,” O’Keefe said to Graham.

Work on the Hastings Creative Index began in July after the St. Paul Foundation donated $25,000 to HPAAC. A press release from the Hastings Prescott organization states that the donation is to “initiate a collaboration between local government, area organizations and interested businesses to increase the presence and vitality of the arts and culture in the Hastings community.”

This grant is being used to hire Brenda Kayzar of Urbane DrK Consulting to create a study of the impact of arts on the Hastings and Prescott area’s economy.

Graham explained to the Hastings Star Gazette that it is important to not separate economic development from the arts because art leads to economic development.

For example, the Creative MN study of the Red Wing area from 2017 found that an average out-of-town theater-goer spends $22.21 in the community outside of the theater. This trend is also seen in Hastings and other cities in Minnesota.

While Graham focuses on the study, O’Keefe and the board will continue focusing on their normal task: funding the arts.

HPAAC acts as an organization that fosters the arts and local organizations through donations. Instead of putting on its own shows/events the nonprofit supports organizations and events already in existence. For example: bringing music groups to local schools, giving scholarships for music lessons, sponsoring summer art programs, supporting the free Tuesday concerts at the Hastings Art Center, and managing The Orange Dragon Art Gallery in Prescott.

All of these programs are mainly sponsored by money raised by HPAAC’s only annual fundraiser: The Gala.

This year, The Gala may work as a fundraiser for local arts as well as a celebration of the completion of the study. Both are scheduled to occur in April 2020.

Looking forward

As the HPAAC moves forward with new leadership and a focus on the economic impact of the arts, the organization is hoping to hear from the community to learn what it wants the focus of the organization to be in the years to come and where more attention needs to be placed.

“Over the next few months we want to hear from everybody,” Graham said.

Kayzar and Graham plan to hold a couple of community meetings for people to give their input on the study and art in the region. Dates to be released later.

A key aspect of Kayzar’s study is the recommendations for sustaining and growing the arts and a road map for how to implement the suggested strategies. Graham and the HPAAC plan to present the findings and facts to the Hastings and Prescott city councils in the hope that the cities work to implement some, or all of the suggestions. Even if the cities do not follow the suggestions at that time, the nonprofit hopes to begin the implementation process.

Graham explained of the study and changes that “it’s a new beginning, a new birth.”