Megan Crigger of Kansas City just completed her first year as the city’s director of creative services, a new position created last year by Mayor Sly James to promote arts as an integral part of city planning. Crigger, born and raised in Texas, previously worked as cultural arts manager for the Economic Development Department of Austin. Crigger’s husband is from Kansas City. This conversation, shortened and edited for clarity, took place at Kaldi’s Coffee downtown; the photo was shot at City Hall.
Q: Why did Mayor James put the new Office of Culture and Creative Services in the city manager’s department instead of planning and development or parks and recreation?
A: I think that was a far-sighted move to say arts is more than just a driver of economic development. It recognizes that arts and culture can be used as a tool for neighborhood revitalization.
Q: What is a concrete example of that?
A: I think a good example is Northeast Arts, where they brought together some residents and artists and they painted boards on windows of homes that have been vacant to improve the visual component of the neighborhood and that also has a social component.
I think the really impactful arts-related strategies create a sense of belonging for those who live here. Arts can help foster a sense of pride in a neighborhood at the grass-roots level.
So, how do we retain the creatives in the core of our city so that they can continue to do good work in their communities?
Q: How do we?
A: That is a national conversation and a problem no one has completely solved.
Thinking about that challenge, we are talking with Artspace, a nonprofit organization in Minneapolis that builds affordable live/work spaces for artists.
We contracted them to do a pre-feasability study and it came back, as we expected, with the answer, yes, Kansas City is ripe for more artist live/work spaces.
On the heels of that meeting I met the Historic West Bottoms folks and there was interest in a comprehensive West Bottoms regional cultural district idea. That is the part of the city with the richest history, so how can we tap into that and bring the history back to life?
Another aspect we are looking at is, how do we diversify funding streams? Grants are the traditional way of funding, but what about untapped resources that are available to businesses and entrepreneurs? I’ve started doing interviews with banks and lenders, and we’re about to announce a big micro-loan pool for artists.
Q: How is that different from existing banks and micro lenders?
A: There has historically been a perception that arts are risky. I think that is a product of being misinformed about the professionalism of artists. By identifying a partner that recognizes the value and understands that the risk is more minimal than what is perceived, it opens the door to funding things grants aren’t funding because they aren’t sexy.
Q: Like what?
A: Like equipment, like down payments on real estate. By closing the gap in funding things like that, you help artists build equity and keep them here.
Q: What’s a project that you are excited about working on in 2016?
A: There are two: I’m working with the city of Minneapolis to launch a new program (here) called “creative citymaking” that embeds artists in city departments.
In Minneapolis they have an artist in the city clerk’s office working on voter engagement.
Q: What else?
A: The mayor wants an arts festival, and that’s tricky because it has to make sense for our creative community and the broader community and visitors. The idea is multi-discipline, so including literary, performing and digital arts. It has to be meaningful across the Troost line, and it would be curated around the idea of our vision for Kansas City in the future.
Q: Have you seen any festivals in other places that did cool things you would like to incorporate?
A: I love the idea of using the city’s infrastructure as the backdrop, so rather than having a large stage you have vignettes for experiences that make a more intimate connection with the audience. First Night in Boston does that really well.
Cindy Hoedel: 816-234-4304