UW and Local Colleges Awarded $1.1M to Support Artists and Creative Professionals

Efforts to ramp up state’s ‘creative economy’ underway

The University of Wyoming’s Neltje Center for Excellence in Creativity and the Arts will receive roughly $900,000 in funds from the Wyoming Innovation Partnership to help boost the state’s creative economy. (Courtesy photo by Austin Jackson)

By Shen Wu Tan

Special to the Wyoming Truth

The Cowboy State is getting in touch with its creative side, allocating new funding to assist local artists, with hopes of further diversifying an economy that’s been largely reliant on the mining industry.

The University of Wyoming’s (UW) Neltje Center for Excellence in Creativity and the Arts, Northwest College and Sheridan College have secured a combined $1.1 million to boost the state’s creative economy. The funding from the Wyoming Innovation Partnership (WIP) will support creatives and artists in their efforts to launch arts-focused nonprofits or businesses and develop sustainable art practices.

In 2021, Gov. Mark Gordon launched the WIP to build a highly skilled workforce and support economic growth and diversification.

The grant doubles the state’s annual funding for the arts, provides artists with resources and makes significant “seed money” available for arts-related entities, Beth Venn, executive director of UW’s Neltje Center, told the Wyoming Truth.

“These will, in turn, continue to elevate the level of arts engagement here,” she said. “It’s a win for everyone dedicated to the arts in Wyoming.”

Pictured above is the interior of the University of Wyoming’s Neltje Center for Excellence in Creativity and the Arts. (Courtesy photo by Austin Jackson) 

Wyoming-based creative professionals and artists in any field – including theater, writing, visual arts, music and more — can apply for the program and the chance to secure up to $25,000 in startup funding. The program includes mentorship and coaching from experts in a wide range of creative fields and startup business practices; access to resources and assistance to help artists develop a lasting creative life; a workshop to teach participants various ways to reach their professional goals; and an opportunity to compete for an arts-focused business startup, arts-related enterprise or nonprofit initiative.

UW is taking the lead on the initiative, so it will receive the majority of the WIP funds, roughly $900,000, Venn said. Sheridan College and Northwest College will each receive about $100,000.

“It’s not only a professional development opportunity for those looking to start or grow their creative practice, but it also provides a platform for talking about the arts and culture sector as a viable economic driver in the state,” Rachel Clifton, executive director of the Wyoming Arts Council, said about the WIP-funded program.

Financially backing artistic and creative ventures has numerous benefits for Wyoming’s economy, including creating jobs and making the state a more attractive place to live and visit, she noted.

“In Wyoming, we are all familiar with the boom-and-bust cycle of the economy,” Clifton said. “Investing in and building out the creative economy is one way to help diversify and stabilize Wyoming’s economy as a whole.”

Venn also pointed out that many communities in the state don’t have an art gallery, music scene or a theater or dance company.

“This is not for a lack of creative folks wanting to develop sustainable practices and give back to their communities,” Venn said. “What has been missing is the support necessary to bring these folks to the next level with their work, their careers and their goals.”

There are roughly 8,000 jobs in the arts, entertainment and recreation industries in the state, which make up about 2% of the total workforce, per Wenlin Liu, chief economist for Wyoming’s Economic Analysis Division. He noted about half of these are self-employed positions rather than salaried jobs with lower wages.

“Any measures that could create additional opportunities for artists and related economic activities [are] good for the state’s economic diversification,” Liu said.

Potential applicants can attend a daylong workshop scheduled for 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 2 at UW’s Visual Arts Building. There are plans to host more workshops in the spring in Powell, Sheridan, Riverton and Rock Springs.

Sharon Louden, an internationally recognized visual artist from New York and editor of the “Living and Sustaining a Creative Life” book series, will host the workshops. Topics to be covered include an introduction to the mentor and coaching program, and a panel of creatives will explain how they carry out sustainable art practices. Participants also will have access to a specialized mentoring team of experts and the opportunity to craft proposals for the “Creative Economy Start-up Challenge.”

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