Creativity Center launches membership campaign

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Students in the Creativity Center's after school art program used wool sweaters to make 'smittens,' learning a running stitch, a whip stitch, and how to sew on buttons. From left are scholarship students Mariah Werger, Ellie Davis and Mara Shannon. (Press photo by Molly Moser)

By Molly Moser

After finishing a five-year sustainability plan in June, local nonprofit Guttenberg Gallery and Creativity Center has embarked on its first formal membership campaign to help sustain the organization's operations. 

“Our seventh annual after school art program began this fall on Sept. 14. Scholarships remain available to any student, grades four and up, in the Clayton Ridge school district and surrounding areas,” said Director Cindy Olsen, who has made this after school art program her labor of love for nearly a decade. “Thus far, we have given away scholarships to every student who attends the program - and this is a tradition we will continue. Thanks to a grant from the Iowa Arts Council, a division of the Department of Cultural Affairs, this year we are offering week-long workshops taught by area artists to our after school students.”

The state Department of Cultural Affairs also helped fund the establishment of the new sustainability plan through its Cultural Trust Stability Grant. “With the help of fundraising consultant M.J. Smith, we now have a plan for the future – and part of that plan includes achieving long-term sustainability,” said Olsen. The ongoing membership campaign is one leg of that sustainability plan.

“An advisory committee was established through the sustainability plan, and that committee helped shape our new membership program,” said Olsen. Membership levels are named after artists like  Andy Warhol,  Georgia O'Keefe, and Iowan Grant Wood. They range in price from $60 to $500, offering incentives like voting on new media for the Creativity Center, the organization's community art studio; attending members-only Evenings with the Artist; and experimenting freely on one of the four pottery wheels in the studio. Higher level members are invited to flash sales in the gallery, receive discounts on house-taught workshops, and are considered sponsors of individual week-long after school art program workshops. 

The non-profit's seven years of service have provided more than after school art programming at no cost to families, the school, or the community. Nearly two years ago, Juanita Loven partnered with Olsen to found the local arts council, Umbrella Arts, supported by Guttenberg Gallery and Creativity Center's non-profit administration. This initiative created Guttenberg's River of Music, a series of 20 free concerts to date that draw crowds of 100+ community members. The event continues to grow, with generous individual  sponsors providing thousands of dollars in free entertainment to the city and its visitors. 

While similar organizations, such as the McGregor-Marquette Center for the Arts, receive significant funding from local government, Guttenberg Gallery and Creativity Center operates by responsibly leveraging volunteer contributions, grants, and donations, including memberships. The City of Elkader provided $1,000 and free power to this summer's Art in the Park festival, assisted with grant writing, and supplied signage for the festival. The City of Dubuque has provided over $2.3 million in funding for the arts since 2004.

Guttenberg Gallery is an exhibition venue for nearly 30 area artists, who partner with the organization to provide opportunities for community engagement through classes and demonstrations. The nonprofit embraces city-wide events, including Stars and Stripes, the annual car cruise, and GermanFest, by contributing live music, tours of the historic Rathskellar, relevant art exhibitions, and art activities for all ages. 

While compiling research for the organization's sustainability plan, Olsen consulted the city's 2030 comprehensive plan to ensure that Guttenberg Gallery and Creativity Center is indeed providing value to the community. 

“Arts and culture goals in the city's plan include preservation and enhancement of the history and architecture of Guttenberg. Our organization has preserved one of Guttenberg's most historic buildings, cited as the best example of German architecture in the city and built by German immigrants. We have also helped the city to meet the second goal in that section of the plan by striving to provide a vibrant hub for tourists and supporting the local economy by frequently partnering with local businesses and organizations. When we open our Artisan Cafe and Courtyard, we'll also be incorporating healthy, fresh, local food choices – fulfilling one of the many strategies the comprehensive plan lists for attracting tourists,” Olsen explained.

The nonprofit is one of few businesses that already meets both the third and fourth arts and culture goals listed in the 2030 plan: Providing ample opportunities for residents to participate in the arts and offering year-round recreation opportunities for residents and visitors. “We are the only provider of fine art experiences to the public in the area. Many of Guttenberg's recreational activities disappear in the winter, while our gallery and community art studio stays open year round,” said the director.

As the city explores the feasibility of the Main Street Iowa program and its potential impact in Guttenberg, Olsen also points out that Guttenberg Gallery and Creativity Center meets several of Main Street's points of interest, such as diversifying the commercial district economy; restoring/re-purposing a vacant historic building; and adding to the visual quality of the commercial district with our window displays and colorful courtyard.

“As we continue our journey toward sustainability, we invite you to contribute to the arts in your community by becoming a member,” said Olsen. “Annual memberships directly support local artists and musicians, free after school art programming, and outreach while providing many valuable benefits and discounts. Your membership is an investment that directly influences art education, cultural events, and creative expression in your community. Join today to help us reach children one art project at a time.”

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