rural economic development

How the Arts Grow Communities

By Victoria Shaw, Marketing Consultant

When thinking of community growth, arts organizations may not immediately come to mind. Yet, communities looking to improve economic prosperity, public engagement, and overall community health may actually find their answer in local arts organizations.


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$15.7 million

Arts revenue for local governments in the Indy area. 

The Arts Bring Economic Investment

Americans for the Arts, an advocacy group, reports annual research about the financial impact from the arts for each state. In 2010, research shows that for the greater Indianapolis area, revenues from arts organizations and audiences generated $26.5 million for state government and $15.7 million for local governments. Arts organizations hired the full-time equivalent (FTE) to 13,136 jobs. The arts don’t just support the existing community by bringing jobs, but they promote economic investment in cities. An estimated 44.8% of audiences who attended these events were not residents of the greater Indianapolis area. Meaning that the arts benefit locals with jobs because of driving an increase in traffic, a fringe benefit being that often times other businesses see an increase in traffic as well.


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Public Arts 

drive community engagement.

The Arts Drive Public Engagement

Visual arts in particular are essential for driving public engagement. Parks, trails, walkways, canals and other common gathering areas provide residents the chance to meet other neighbors. Driving engagement between residents is essential for towns and cities as it increases the length of residency. While 80% of the success of a property boils down to general management, the remaining success can be derived from factors such as the general aesthetic appeal and local activities held in the space. If you’re looking for ideas, check out this article from the Project for Public Spaces to see how festivals, architecture, and preservation practices have impacted cities across America.


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Health and the Arts

go hand-in-hand.

The Arts Improve Community Health Indicators

Research done in New York City compared the health of different boroughs and correlated them to the number of non-profits, venues, galleries, museums, and other indicators of an arts presence. Even after controlling for differences in demographics, communities with more cultural resources saw the following when compared to boroughs with less resources:

  • 14% decrease in cases of child abuse and neglect
  • 5% decrease in obesity
  • 8% increase in kids scoring in the top stratum on English and math exams
  • 18% decrease in the serious crime rate

These statistics show that the arts not only have a place in our towns but can propel positive change for future growth. Arts organizations are essential for thriving communities.


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300% Increase

in visitors over the last five years at the Wabash County Historical Museum.

While many towns may already have arts organizations, some are not positioned to maintain exponential growth. The Wabash County Historical Museum saw an increase of 300% for visitors in the last five years. However, because their facility was rapidly aging their services were under threat of being cut. To learn how the Museum was able to continue growth in their community schools while improving their facilities check out their story here. By taking action and encouraging arts organizations to flourish, communities can see growth in their engagement and prosperity for years to come.

Victoria Shaw is a marketing consultant for businesses throughout Central Indiana and has worked with several small businesses and arts organizations to improve overall performance level. A 2017 graduate of Anderson University, she will be pursuing a Master of Science in International Management this fall in Italy. 

She has been a part of Prosperity Ag since 2015.

How Sustainable is Your Community?

By Christi Southerland, Prosperity Ag Managing Partner

The term “sustainable city” has been thrown around quite a bit in recent years. Though each region likely has their own definition of a sustainable community, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), uses the term “sustainable communities” to describe places “where use of resources and emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants are going down, not up; where the air and waterways are accessible and clean; where land is used efficiently and shared parks and public spaces are plentiful and easily visited; where people of different ages, income levels and cultural backgrounds share equally in environmental, social and cultural benefits; where many needs of daily life can be met within a 20-minute walk and all may be met within a 20-minute transit ride; where industry and economic opportunity emphasize healthy, environmentally sound practices.

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Sustainable Communities 

"Where industry and economic opportunity emphasize healthy, environmentally sound practices." -NRDC

The community described above seems idyllic, however, it is also very hard to achieve. Communities might have a goal of becoming completely sustainable, but funding is a large barrier preventing implementation. Taking small steps each year towards sustainability can be an easier approach while keeping costs reasonable. Further, communities that meet challenges through integrated solutions rather than fragmented approaches while looking at the long term will be more successful. This means it is essential for communities to have an end-goal and a plan in place prior to taking any steps towards sustainability. Having citizen involvement in early-stage planning will also be important for success.

Communities aiming for sustainability can utilize grant and loan programs to achieve their goals. Opportunities abound for projects such as community gardens, integration of renewable energy, wastewater efficiency improvements, building new community facilities, and many more. Further, programs exist to help communities achieve their sustainability goals. Audubon International has a Sustainable Communities Program, which is a science-based, third-party certification program to guide communities through the journey to become healthy and vibrant places to love work and play.

Sustainability is a process that is continuously evolving to meet goals. Communities that embrace this process as part of their overall goal and begin to implement sustainability, they will see a power and positive effect on the quality of life and the future of the community.

Prosperity Ag works with rural communities to become more sustainable. Learn more by downloading our overview of popular funding programs for rural communities.

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Local Food Does a Body Good

By Sherri Dugger

The local food events and conferences around Indiana are beginning to multiply. And for good reason.

Local food systems positively affect economic growth of small towns and cities across our state. The more farmers and food producers we have providing for their communities, the healthier and wealthier the communities they serve. Conversely, economic growth can support and promote local food systems. Policy makes sure of that, and if policy provides technical and financial support for our food growers and local food systems, we all win.

Local food is indeed trending, and it shows no signs of slowing down. Food connoisseurs are hashtagging and Instagramming their local meals. Restaurants champion their locally grown menus. Farmers markets continue to multiply throughout the state. Despite this, estimates on how much local food being bought and sold still remains low, relatively speaking. In Indiana, food is a $16 billion a year business, and 90 percent of the food Hoosiers eat is imported into the state.

Local food is trending!

Local food is trending!

What that means for local food growers and producers? There’s plenty of opportunity.

When I speak at food and farming conferences throughout the state, I enjoy conversations with farmers and food producers of all ages and stages. Some farmers are starting up community gardens to feed low food access neighborhoods in urban areas. Others are planting and plotting out small five-acre diversified farms or agritourism businesses. Some are growing using aquaponic or hydroponic methods. Some are producing food in season-extending high tunnels and greenhouses. Still others are raising commodity grains from fence row to fence row.

   Then there are the food artisans, the food system advocates, and the foodies, themselves, who are throwing potlucks and slow-food soirées to celebrate our state’s natural bounty.

   These wonderful minds and passionate leaders are gathering each year at Indiana’s community events to discuss the ways we can make our food systems better. To address economic growth and local food systems simultaneously, we must develop food value chains made up of stakeholders who share the same values, who strive for transparency, and who work for and support the production of healthy, fresh foods traveling as few food miles as possible. We need policy makers, food council members, growers, aggregators, processors, distributors, retailers, wholesale institutions and eaters all to sit down at the same table. The outcome of these gatherings will most certainly lead to creating more sustainable food systems that better feed our communities.

   And we need good policy. Over the next few months, our legislators will be discussing the future of our farm bill, which is the most important legislation regarding food and farming in the United States. The farm bill determines the funding that nutrition programs, farm safety nets, beginning farmer training programs, and conservation programs will receive—programs like the Local Foods Promotion Program and the Farmers Market Promotion Program receive. The farm bill affects all of us, and it determines whether farmers and food growers can access funds to start and grow their businesses.

Yes, local food tastes good. It’s also good for our health, our local economies, and for our communities. Simply put, local food is important. Talk to your legislators, tell your stories, and advocate for strong, local food systems. Because, even in Indiana, local food is always in season.

Sherri Dugger serves as the media and outreach director for Indiana Farmers Union, as a rural affairs consultant for The Humane Society of the United States , and as a Midwest outreach consultant for Earthjustice. She lives with her husband, Randy, and their dogs, cats, alpacas, goats, chickens, and bees at Dugger Family Farm in Morristown, Indiana. Sherri is also the creator and editor of a local food resource, Hoosier Locavore.

There’s a Grant for That. Or is There?

By Christi Southerland, Prosperity Ag Managing Partner

Grants have been available since the 1800’s when it was required that states be given 5 percent of the net proceeds of land sales within their boundaries, with a percent of these proceeds to be used for “learning” or higher education.  Over the years grants have expanded and are now available for numerous purposes. Grant programs are available through Federal, State and local funding and also through nonprofit organizations.

Over the years working as a grant writer, I have seen grants available for a wide range of projects. This includes some common programs such as after-school care for at risk youth, development of community centers, and preservation of historic locations. However, I have seen my fair share of “unusual” grant programs including solutions for homeless horses in Utah, off-road vehicle safety training, and planning shellfish hatcheries. And yes, those are all real grants.

Prosperity Ag can help take the mystery out of grants.

Prosperity Ag can help take the mystery out of grants.

The availability of funding opportunities is constantly changing, which makes is increasingly harder for organization’s to determine what might be available for their needs. Clients typically ask me, “Is there a grant for my project?” The answer is not simple due to the complexity of grants and my answer to clients is usually “It depends.”

There are many factors an applicant must be aware of when they are interested in pursuing grant funding. Below is a quick summary of our top tips for those interested in apply for funding.


The single most important factor of grants involves the applicant’s eligibility. Prior to beginning any work on a grant application, the organization must determine whether they are even an eligible applicant. This can be easily completed by reading through the notices that are published with the grant materials. Many applicants overlook this step and apply anyway with the thought that the granting organization will still want to hear about their project.


Perhaps one of the trickiest aspects of applying for funding revolves around the timing of both the project and the grant program. Many federal and state grants have set due dates, with applications only being accepted during open funding periods. These due dates may not be convenient for the applicant and could even prevent them from applying. Many grant programs do not allow applicants to begin work on their project until after the grant agreement has been signed, usually months after the grant was submitted. Applicants may decide that they want to pursue their project regardless of funds because of the stifling nature of the timing of a program.

Cost match

I cannot tell you how many people tell me they want to apply for “free money.” The truth is that very few grants are really “free.” Grant programs typically have a cost match component involved, which means that the applicant is required to match the grant funds. The amount required varies greatly depending on the grant agency, but I always tell my clients to plan on having to match at least 25% of the grant funds.

With so many available grants, it can quickly become overwhelming for those looking to receive funding. At Prosperity, we strive to inform our clients about the possible funding opportunities available for their project to ensure success. Some clients like to take this one step further and purchase a Funding Search, which a comprehensive, in-depth evaluation of all the possible funding opportunities for their potential projects. Learn more now!

Going Blue in Rural Communities

Karen DuVall, Prosperity Ag Director of Grant Operations

You know what they say about the weather here in Indiana? If you don’t like it, just wait five minutes and it’ll change.

Indiana and much of the Midwest has suffered severe flooding recently. My hometown of Buffalo in northwest Indiana has a population of about 700. When the Tippecanoe River flooded and residents needed to evacuate, neighbors banded together and helped each other out. People volunteered their trucks, tractors, and boats to assist first responders with evacuation efforts. They offer their time, money, and talents to donate meals and supplies. Fortunately, my hometown isn’t unique. Across the country, people in rural areas, small towns, and cities rally together during emergencies to help their communities.

After the initial disaster subsides, residents return to their homes to begin rebuilding. Communities have also suffered major flood damage to their roads and infrastructure.  On top of that, many rural communities are already struggling to improve aging and limited water and waste treatment infrastructure.

At times, opportunities may arise out of crises. According to the Smithsonian, cities around the world are experimenting with going Blue. Most people are familiar with the idea of Going Green, which is focused on reducing the environmental impact created by cities and investing in renewable energy. Smart Cities (making cities more responsive and connected) is another widely accepted concept. “Blue Cities” is the idea that communities should be designed to work with existing water-flow patterns instead of trying to alter them. Cutting edge concepts include a buoyant parking garage in Denmark and floating solar panels in Bahrain. After Hurricane Katrina, Old River Landing in Louisiana used traditional building techniques from the Bayou to develop floating amphibious housing.

Most of these examples are large-scale projects in cities, but this led me to wonder how this technology could be used in rural areas. How can we take some of these futuristic concepts and scale them down to work for small towns and farms? How are we better positioned to use less-populated watersheds and rivers? It’s predicted that the Midwest will see more extreme weather, including record-breaking heat, cold, flooding, droughts, and storms. Now is the time to prepare by investing in Blue technologies on our own terms.

Whether you represent rural government, manage a construction company with an outside-of-the-box idea, or want to improve your energy efficiency, Prosperity Ag is here to help you. We take the mystery out of grants so you find funding. Click here to find out more.