Leadership Arts Institute Collin County

The inaugural Leadership Arts Institute class for Collin County launched in September and is setting the bar for similar North Texas programs. Business arts leaders come together to brainstorm ideas on how to cultivate relationships with other local businesses to grow their arts districts. 

Leadership Arts Institute, a program of the Business Council for the Arts (BCA), is establishing itself in Collin County.

With downtown Plano’s steady uprising as an arts district, the BCA took interest in the city’s business arts leaders and organizations, aiming to assist Plano in growing the district’s artistic reputation and expanding its resources.

Founded by Raymond Nasher, businessman and founder of North Park Mall, the BCA intends to develop the next successful generation of business leaders for the arts.

“We want to help businesses and arts organizations learn how to start a dialogue about the importance of arts in everyday life,” said Katherine Wagner, CEO of the BCA.

According to Wagner, the Leadership Arts Institute program has been a long time coming for Collin County. After extensive research of the county and its districts, the BCA applied for the grant through the King Foundation, an organization that distributes more than $2 million each year to charities serving the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

“If you are at all familiar with grant foundations, you know the King Foundation name,” Wagner said. “It’s a gold star as far as grant givers go; they are very thorough and careful. So this is something for us to be proud of, because Plano is building the arts so greatly that the King Foundation wants to be invested there.”

A nine-month inaugural Leadership Arts class for Collin County began in September. It has since proven successful in bringing organizations and business leaders together in downtown Plano, according to the BCA.

The class meets every third Thursday each month at different locations and arts venues around Collin County, and each year, class members come together to establish a goal to accomplish by graduation.

In the case of Collin County, members include Historic Downtown Plano Association Executive Director Alex Hargis; Emily Bailey, a banker with Frost Bank in Plano; Karen Davis with the Chamberlain Ballet; and Plano-based artist Barbara Mason.

They have chosen to make it their class project to introduce the program to Plano’s arts district.

“It really showcases the arts venues that are here and gives a resource to those businesses that want to give back to the arts and participate in the arts in the community,” said Michele Hawkins, administrator of arts, culture and heritage for the city.

By putting on events and inviting business leaders to join them for workshops, the program has opened the conversation for what else can be done for the city’s artistic growth.

“The arts drive economic vitality,” explained Sara Akers, Plano Children's Theatre executive director and Leadership Arts Institute class member. “The workshops are really bringing arts and business together.

“This program allows us to talk to businesses about the arts in a way that they will understand, and hopefully will lead them to invest in their local arts organizations.”

Seeing the program’s success in Plano, the Dallas BCA has decided to evaluate its own class, taking ideas and improvements from the Collin County program. In particular, the class size and range of ideas that come from Plano on how to grow the program have stood out to its directors, Wagner said.

The class is inclusive, with all the cities working together to better each individual district.

“It makes you think about how the arts community just crosses boundaries, helping everyone across the board,” Wagner added.

In the meantime, as the first Collin County Leadership Arts Institute graduation nears, the founding group is brainstorming who will be nominated for the next round. They are optimistic that it will be a healthy combination of corporations and arts leaders.

“At times it may be difficult for a business to see a [return on investment] until they sit in the audience and see a young child shine on stage and realize that their investment in that arts organization made this learning opportunity possible,” Akers said. “I hope that Collin and Denton County businesses will nominate an employee for next year's Leadership Arts class."

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