Cultivating a thriving arts community here in North Idaho
By Jillian Chandler
Photo Courtesy of Coeur d'Alene Arts & Culture Alliance
“Art is more than just a painting you might view in a museum. Art is about fostering creativity, challenging convention and inspiring new thinking.”
Dedicated to promoting, strengthening, embracing and elevating art and culture here in North Idaho, with a vision to inspire and sustain the community, The Coeur d’Alene Arts & Culture Alliance values integrity and diversity; excellence, creativity and passion; stewardship; and collaboration. A 501c3 nonprofit organization, A&C is dedicated to providing events, programs and activities for the Coeur d’Alene community and its artists, nurturing the arts and bringing a greater awareness of the important role the arts play in all of our lives.
Ali Shute, who serves as executive director, has made it her life’s work to ensure the arts are alive and thriving here in our town—and that is exactly what she has done—and continues to do—through the Coeur d’Alene Arts & Culture Alliance. “The arts have always been part of my life, and is my passion, and it was a natural fit for me to participate in helping promote and actuate the programming (for the alliance),” she shares.
While growing up in Virginia, Ali’s mother, an artist, introduced her to the world of art and creativity at a young age. Ali would go on to earn a degree in commercial art and was responsible for starting the Art on the Edge program at St. Vincent de Paul in the mid-1990s, which she dedicated 15 years to.
In 2013, Ali was asked to join the Arts & Culture Alliance Board and served as a board member for two years before accepting a new role—as executive director. The only person on staff for the alliance, her role involves everything involved in making the organization run and says she is fortunate to have an incredible board of directors who stand behind her efforts and support the organization’s programs through their volunteerism.
“They inspire me as much as our community, who has shown their appreciation for what the A&C provides,” smiles Ali. “Seeing the success of the A&C over the last few years as we have grown and evolved has been so rewarding.”
When Ali first joined the Arts & Culture Alliance, she says the organization was relatively unknown at the time. “It wasn’t clear (to the community) who was putting on ArtWalk and the other programs we do,” she recalls. Her first mission was to help educate the public of who A&C was and their purpose. “One of the tasks I started on was simply making local businesses aware that the arts were a huge driver of the local economy, and how their investment in the arts would be returned 10-fold. We now have some power behind our organization, and that just enables us to continue to further our mission.”
There is a definitive and undeniable economic impact as a result of the arts. Statistics show that for every dollar invested in the arts, $10 is put back into the local economy. Ali shares that according to the Economic Impact Calculator by the Americans for the Arts, the Arts & Culture Alliance alone impacts the Coeur d’Alene community by generating more than $1 million dollars for local businesses each year (AmericansForTheArts.org/economicimpact).
Fostering creativity is good for communities, businesses and overall quality of life, inspiring people to work together, encourage problem solving skills and expand flexibility in thinking. “Workplaces are beginning to understand how important it is to establish a creative environment and hire employees who are thinkers and doers,” she states. “As Coeur d’Alene continues to grow into a vibrant art culture, our attraction to visitors grows, which is good for our local economy.
“But mostly the arts are good for our souls, renewing our energy and replenishing our joie de vivre.”
A&C events include: 2nd Friday ArtWalk, Music Walk, Coeur d’Alene Artist Studio Tour, Riverstone Summer Concert Series, Music for the Wise, Kids Draw Architecture, Art from the Heart and Arts Buzz; information about these events can be found online at ArtsandCultureCdA.org.
The A&C’s monthly Arts Buzz is a networking opportunity providing a forum for artists to connect regularly with each other and art organizations, according to Ali, keeping everyone current with art events and opportunities. “This has contributed to the strength of our arts community and is fairly unique to have so many organizations and artists who work together and support each other.”
Over the past several months, COVID has especially impacted the visual and performing artists in a variety of ways. And as Ali confirms, “Support of the arts is critical right now, as we are all struggling.” The performing arts, in particular, are suffering, as there are very few viable options during this pandemic. “I would encourage everyone to choose their favorite (performing arts organization) and offer a donation in support of keeping the arts alive. They are vital to our mental health, and we could all use some positivity in this crazy time!”
Despite the difficult time we are all enduring, there is a silver lining beneath it all. “It has been very satisfying to witness the re-invention of how best to present art in this new arena. Utilizing our technology to create online galleries, live streaming concerts and performances, and offering that connection when we are unable to gather in person—there have been some incredibly creative alternatives to what we are used to, and they have worked, sometimes outperforming the traditional. I believe art organizations and artists have a responsibility to lead by example and show how adapting with innovative ideas can keep us going and thriving.”
Unfortunately, there are some who do not grasp, or choose to ignore, the importance art brings to one’s life and a community as a whole. “There are those who still view art as the window dressing and don’t realize the real value of art and the creative process to our humanity, our economy and our daily inspiration,” says Ali. “All we can do is keep reaching out and trying to connect as best we can. I believe there is some form of art that will connect with everyone: performance, visual art, music, dance …. There is something there for everyone.”
Ali finds her work through the Coeur d’Alene Arts & Culture Alliance one filled with passion, inspiration and meaning; from the relationships with artists, musicians, supporters and sponsors, to those who simply appreciate the inspiration, energy and vivacity that the arts bring to this community. “I feel incredibly lucky, even through the challenges, to be able to do this work. All this, and witnessing this dynamic art culture we are building, is what makes this job worthwhile.”