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TACLing Collaboration

Marc Folk

“There was nothing to do here.” That was Toledo’s myth.

Sure, if you bought it as it is often packaged, you would see Toledo, OH as a barren, struggling post-industrial city with a bleak future and little cultural vitality. Toledo is near bull’s eye center in the “rust belt” region, frequently discounted on a whim and cast with a left-for-dead mentality too often projected on to mid-size Midwestern cities.

Yes, it is true that our community faces stern economic challenges, scant resources, and is faced with its own reinvention. But too, we are graced with profound, rich, and growing artistic heritage and cultural identity.

And let’s not forget, Toledo is a labor town, a little hard work has never scared us.

Scratch just below the soot of our “rust belt” stereotypes, and you’ll see a burgeoning artist community and growing public participation in the arts. Scratch a little deeper and discover that the Toledo Museum of Art was voted America’s favorite museum (it’s true) and that its halls hold the bulk of your art history book.

A little past that and you’ll see the world class Toledo Symphony Orchestra recently performed, by invitation, at Carnegie Hall.

Look even deeper, at its roots, and you’ll come to understand Toledo as the birthplace of the contemporary studio glass movement, and host city for the 2012 50th Anniversary Glass Arts Society Conference.

How does a city tackle these perceptions and use its artistic and cultural assets to frame its future? In Toledo, it’s about organization and collaboration.

Enter Toledo Arts and Cultural Leaders (TACL) group.

Originally formed to combine resources, showcase our cultural offerings, and introduce audiences to organizations and opportunities with which they may be unfamiliar, this alliance of arts and cultural organizations is collaborating to define itself as an important sector of both the economy and community.

TACL consists of leaders from the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo, Bowling Green State University, Imagination Station, Metroparks of the Toledo Area, Sauder Village, Toledo Ballet, Toledo Botanical Garden, Toledo Lucas County Library, Toledo Opera, Toledo Repertoire Theatre, Toledo School for the Arts, Toledo Symphony, Toledo Zoo, University of Toledo, and WGTE Public Media.

Convening once a month to address shared issues, leverage resources, and present itself as a sector to community leadership, this group is serving as a model for others within the region. Together we have addressed the heads of the Regional Growth Partnership, Toledo Community Foundation and The Toledo Blade editorial staff, among others.

We are exploring bulk health insurance for our staffs, shared mailing lists, joint marketing initiatives, and collaborative marketing.

These efforts are moving us forward in many ways, especially in generating support within the community. It is leading by example to smaller organizations and individuals that collaboration is possible and fruitful. It is showing our community and political leaders that arts and culture organizations are serious and positive about our voice at the table.

Perhaps most importantly, we are generating trust within our agencies that will undoubtedly drive our sector forward together, for long-term benefit for all, not just short term grasp for some. By encouraging open discussion across the sector — from individual artists to legacy institutions — and through collaboration and thoughtful positioning, Toledo has postured itself for a sustainable rebirth, based on local, organic growth.

As we revitalize, as Toledo ex-pats return, and we attract new audiences, the response we hear most is, “I never knew there is so much to do here.”

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