Artists sought for Warren

James Shuttic of Art on the Park in Warren works on one of his art pieces.

WARREN — The Fine Arts Council of Trumbull County wants to fill the empty homes and commercial properties in the city with artists, and it will have the help of an Austintown digital marketing company to do it.

Actionable Insights is developing a marketing campaign to target working artists in other major metropolitan areas and sell them on the economic benefits of moving to Warren.

“The target audience is successful artists who have a business up and running, doing well, who are in New York City, because that’s where you start,” AI President Jason Wood said. “They end up in brownstones that cost thousands of dollars a month. The geography of where you live, once you’re already rolling, becomes less important.”

Those artists already have the big-city connections and a customer base they reach online. Where they make and sell the art from matters less.

“Once they’re up and running, the view shifts a little,” Wood said. “You’re doing X number of dollars. Dropping those (housing and studio) costs precipitously and very quickly, suddenly you’re very profitable. That’s the kind of messaging we can deliver to this audience that we think will be very palatable.”

The plan is to gather additional information from FACT and area Realtors to determine the desirable target market by using such factors as income level, credit score and age, Wood said. A variety of marketing techniques then will be used to reach those people, and the message can be narrowed even further.

“When we’re talking to a younger audience, when we’re talking to a less-educated-but-successful audience or a more-educated audience, these messages have to vary frankly,” he said.

Cities like Asheville, N.C., have used the arts to boost the local economy, and there already is a trend toward artists leaving expensive markets like New York, Boston and Chicago to relocate in more affordable locations, including Cleveland.

“They’re already coming to the the Midwest. Instead of going to Cleveland, let’s yank them here,” Adam Gregory said.

Gregory resigned as director of the FACT in December to take a job as a digital strategist with Actionable Insights. During his tenure, Gregory frequently talked about how the arts could be used to propel economic development locally.

James Shuttic, president of the FACT board, said, “It’s a prime time in this area and market with the cost of living so low. It would be a waste not to jump on the opportunity while it’s there. I don’t think it’s going to last.”

Shuttic, who is an artist, said artists frequently convey the world around them in their work. In a smaller community like Warren, it’s easier to interact with people one-on-one, become active and have those experiences that can influence what they do.

“In big cities, I think you can have more people but less connection to actual people,” he said.

Actionable Insights also will work with FACT in expanding the audience for its events and targeting potential new donors. Gregory said the efforts to bring artists to the community only raises FACT’s value to potential donors.

“Who wouldn’t want to invest in an organization that is working to bring people to the area, that’s increasing the value of their homes,” Gregory asked. “If I was going to donate my money, do I give it to A, who’s going to spend it, or B that’s going to invest in the area and that I know is going to boost the area and help the economy? I’m going to go with B.”

AI is donating its services to FACT

“We live and work in the community,” Wood said. “We think it’s good for the community, and we’re willing to pitch in and get it done.”

Steve Schubert, vice president of business development, added that many of AI’s employees have arts backgrounds. He has a music degree and other employees are musicians, artists and photographers, and those creative people bring valuable skills to what AI does.

At this point, no one is sure how quickly an impact could be seen from the effort or what will define its success.

“We have to identify the cycle, from initial contact to moving here,” Wood said. “What does that cycle look like? It could be something that takes a couple months, it could take a year. We don’t know yet. Frankly, nationally, no one’s endeavored to approach this so aggressively. Local success, driving up numbers in attendance and donations, that’s frankly a pretty easy target to hit.”

And Gregory said, “We haven’t set any sort of standard goal as far as we want to sell 300 homes and get 300 artists here. If we were successful in getting 200 artists to move here, that would be a huge increase of income that’s being driven locally into the coffers and additional tax dollars to the city. A number? No idea yet, but anything really. We’re providing something for free, so anything is a success, but I have no doubt there is going to be a lot of success with this program.”