Arizona ArtBeat: Arizona Art Tank

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In 2013, the Arizona Commission on the Arts launched a funding initiative called Arizona Art Tank, which is designed to make strategic investments in arts-based ventures. At regional events in four Arizona communities, top applicants are given six minutes each to pitch their ventures to a live audience and a panel of experts for a chance at up to $10,000 in seed-funding. Robert Booker, executive director of the Arizona Commission on the Arts, will talk about the Arizona Art Tank.

Ted Simons: Tonight's edition of Arizona Art Beat looks at a unique way to fund art projects. "Arizona Art Tank" makes strategic investments in arts-based ventures through seed money awarded to applicants who successfully pitch their ideas in regional competitions. Here to explain is Robert Booker, executive director of the Arizona commission on the arts. Good to see you again.

Robert Booker: Great to be with you today.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about Arizona Art Tank. What in the heck are we talking about?

Robert Booker: Think a shark tank. Think of a competition where organizations come and pitch their best ideas. We wanted to help arts organizations across the state really break the barrier that they had been in before. Kind of a barrier of businesses as usual trying to survive after the economic down turn. We created this program to lift up those organizations and those ideas specifically that are entrepreneurial, that are beyond the box, that help provide access to our residents, provide economic development, all of the good things that the arts provide but with a new twist on it, a new sort of energetic outlook.

Ted Simons: These folks come to the, they had like four regional competitions around the state?

Robert Booker: Four regional competitions. This year we are in Flagstaff, we are in Bisbee, we are in Chandler and we are in Peoria. There is a panel made up of local arts leaders, entrepreneurs, business leaders, legislators, and each organization has six minutes to make their pitch. And it is incredible to watch. Last year we had a lot of fun and a lot of success with organizations that really pitch their idea in an entrepreneurial, creative way.

Ted Simons: Give us an example of an idea and give us an example of how that idea is pitched.

Robert Booker: One of my favorite ones was Tumble Tees is a brand name of T-shirts that is produced by an organization called Tumbleweed. This group works with homeless teenaged kids. They wanted to develop a program where they could earn revenue to support the work of the organization, and teach the kids skills. So they brought together entrepreneurs. They brought together someone that understood small business. They brought an artist into the play. They brought a print maker into the play and someone that knows sales. And throughout the process, they have created a program where the kids actually design, print, and market a line of really pretty cool T-shirts. Now, what they did in their presentation, they had a great guy talking about, well, one talking about being homeless and what that means to a kid, a teenager. And then he talked about being with the center and meeting other kids. And then as he's talking there's a guy in the background who is actually printing a T-shirt. And so at the finally, at six minutes they hold up the T-shirt and it was the sort of visual representation of their goal. And they were a very exciting, very positive group.

Ted Simons: OK. And that's a winner.

Robert Booker: Yes.

Ted Simons: That winner gets seed money up to $10,000?

Robert Booker: Up to $10,000. That group got $10,000. And it launched their program, which is now underway. And it's a program that not only generates some revenue for the organization, but, as I said, trains kids in small business, arts, production, printing.

Ted Simons: And where does the money come from?

Robert Booker: The money comes from our budget at the Arizona commission on the Arts. A year ago, two years ago, for the last two years we have received funding from the rainy day fund. We received $1 million from that fund and those dollars have gone into programs that provide access for Arizonans, specifically with the focus towards education and economic development. And we took some of those dollars out and created two brand-new programs. This being one of them. We really wanted, we know that the arts community is innovative. We know it's a creative community. But we really wanted to give them the opportunity to shine and really show off how creative and how entrepreneurial they really are.

Ted Simons: Applications for 2015 for that particular Art Tank, those --

Robert Booker: Those are closed and Art Tanks are starting to happen. They will start to happen on January 12th.

Ted Simons: If someone is watching, all right, I got it, didn't make it for 2015. Let's try for 2016. Where do they need to go?

Robert Booker: Go to our website and get all the information about how to apply. Organizations apply with their idea. They are reviewed by a panel and eight to 10 organizations are chosen to actually give that presentation.

Ted Simons: Are there organizations, are there ideas, ventures that are more appropriate than others? Who does well in these sorts of things?

Robert Booker: Well, anybody can do well. I think what's exciting is that it helps organizations also gain an ability to talk about their own work to people that they maybe don't know. So we all talk about that elevator speech, that sort of need to express what you do in a short, short amount of time. It's one of those programs that builds that skill with organizations. It's also our hope that, we have a large audience. We have about 150 folks attending these events. This year we are sponsored by APS. And APS will be giving out the community awards. So that audience actually gets to vote for their favorite Art Tank competitor and they will get the APS innovation award. So it is an exciting program and we are looking forward to it again.

Ted Simons: You mention the rainy day fund. That's how this thing got started. Funding concerns and other aspects?

Robert Booker: You bet. Funding concerns. Facing the economy. Has not quite recovered yet. So we are seeing our nonprofit arts organizations continue to struggle a bit but actually they are doing pretty good. We are seeing them get back in the play, expanding their programs for young people. You know, we are a $500 million economic driver in the state. We are an important element of the state's economy. We are an important element of the state's education. But this year is going to be tough at the Legislature. We need at the very least that $1 million to continue from any source and we are actually looking for a little bit larger. We are looking for a $2 million increase. That's been our official ask.

Ted Simons: Is that something that so far when you talk, do, you talk about the $500 million engine. Do they understand that? Or is that something that is over here and the budget is facing you right here?

Robert Booker: I was excited. I was in a meeting with candidate Ducey. And he talked about the importance of the economic driver of the arts to Arizona. So as a businessman, he truly understands that the arts provide economic incentive and provide economic resources. It was also nice to hear him talk about the value of arts education in our public schools, which is something we have talked about before. So to hear the Governor understand and talk about economic development through the arts and the importance of education in the lives of our K-12 kids, to me is an amazing sign as we move forward into this session.

Ted Simons: Last question. Real quickly, they say sometimes during the worst of times you get the best of art. You notice any of that? Does that ring true?

Robert Booker: That's the sort of the old starving, the old abused --

Ted Simons: There you go.

Robert Booker: I don't know. I think, I think in the best of times, and the worst of times, you get great art. It's a matter of growing those artists and keeping those artists in our state.

Ted Simons: All right. Good luck with the Art Tank this year. We are anxious who hear who won and got seed money.

Robert Booker: Thank you, sir. Good to see you.

Robert Booker:Executive Director, Arizona Commission on the Arts;

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