The Madison Miracle

Visiting consultant praises Madison’s community progress

Creative Summit focuses on the arts
impact on economy

(March 2020) – The night was dark, but the energy of bright ideas provided more light than the bulbs strung from the ceiling. Chairs quickly filled up with a diverse mix of individuals: artists, musicians, professionals, leaders in business and industry, supporters of the community and tourism. They gathered on Feb. 11 at the Red Bicycle Hall in Madison, Ind. Soon it became standing room only. The bar was open, and the room was buzzing with conversation as individuals greeted friends and colleagues.
The event was the first “Creative Community Summit” to consider the economic impact of Madison’s local arts and culture. Hosted by the Madison Area Arts Alliance, opening speakers included the organization’s president, Randy Lakeman, Madison Mayor Bob Courtney, Paige Sharp, Deputy Director of Programs of the Indiana Arts Commission, and Anna Tragesser, Artist and Community Services Manager of the Indiana Arts Commission. The keynote speaker was Michael Fortunato, a founding partner of Creative Insight Community Development, a consulting group.
Each of the opening speakers celebrated Madison’s achievements and continued progress. Lakeman recognized the investment in the arts through the art banners on Main Street and the switchbox art project. Courtney recognized Bill Barnes for his 10 years of service as the president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Madison and Jefferson County, and for his strong support of the arts. Courtney also challenged the group to continue to “work together because partnerships make a community grow.”
Sharpe praised Madison as the “shining star of cultural development.” She cited 2018 data showing more than 300 creative jobs in this area, with 60 percent of those jobs as self-employed. The creative economy drove a $35 million impact on local tourism in 2019, she said.

Photo by Sharyn Whitman

Kim Nyberg, executive director of the Madison Area Arts Alliance, poses inside The SPOT, the organization’s new office on Mulberry Street in Madison, Ind.

Tragesser observed that “Madison is unique, through arts and culture. Madison actually sees people.” She praised the development of “The SPOT,” the Arts Alliance’s new gathering place. SPOT stands for Supporting People Of Talent. She also praised the Arts Alliance’s upcoming “Kindness Mural Project.”
For all of those recent achievements, no one came only to celebrate success. Instead they came to learn more, learn how and then do more. They came to be inspired by lessons from other communities, as described by Fortunato.
Fortunato started with his own inspiration. “Madison feels like my hometown,” he said, after visiting Madison over the past 18 months. The creativity, the community economic development, especially the creativity together he dubbed “The Madison Miracle.”
He has seen the arts and business community integrated from the grass roots. He described what he has seen in Madison as “like playing jazz, playing exciting things within a structure.”
Fortunato listed impressive statistics. In 2016, $804 billion was the total value of arts and creative, making it the No., 3 economic driver in the country (behind No. 2 retail and ahead of No. 4 construction).
“The Arts contribute more to the economic development than agriculture contributes to the GDP,” he said. “The arts are robust during recession. The arts can be imported and exported. With the arts, you take home an experience. The arts make us want to spend money, and therefore the arts creates a more diversified economy. It is a more experiential economy than just buying stuff. It used to be that work drives where you live. Now the economy is becoming place-based. You can live where you want, and then find work.”

Michael Fortunato

Rockland, Maine, was one example Fortunato cited.  “It was a tiny struggling town with two small inns. When a third inn opened, the owners collaborated to create Historic Inns of Rockland. They drew more business together and created spin-off groups. Ten years later, Rockland is now a thriving cruise-ship base.”
In conclusion, Fortunato encouraged everyone by saying, “Continue to be flexible and build an ‘us’ economy. That’s the Madison Miracle. Remember, you can always be a better Madison.”
Kim Nyberg, the Arts Alliance’s executive director, wrapped up the evening with observations about the organization’s successes. “The Madison Area Arts Alliance is unique because it is not just visual arts. We did ground-up with different art forms, including writing, theatre, culinary, healing – everyone and everything. It is a bigger asset than we realized for this size of community.”
She said the new Kindness Mural Project will start in March. “It is just paint on a wall, but the message is that the arts can heal when people really come together to be welcomed, to belong and to be loved,” Nyberg said.
The messages of the evening resonated with many participants in the room. Sandy Palmer, co-owner with her husband, Steve, of Madison Vineyards, put that feeling into words, saying, “The growth in the arts is just another reason to visit Madison. We also have great volunteers and financial backing for all of the events. Madison’s just a gem!” 

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