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Conference builds collaboration among arts organizations

ST. CHARLES – The Chicago Suburban Arts Conference had hardly begun Saturday before organizers began fielding questions about if it would become an annual event.

"If not that at least biennial," said Amanda Harris of Core Project Chicago and Side Street Studio Arts (SSSA).

Held in businesses in the First Street Plaza in downtown St. Charles, the arts conference aimed to foster a greater level of collaboration between arts organizations.

Jim Kirkhoff of Water Street Studios (WSS) said the event was born out of a frustration he and others – including Harris – shared about how regional arts organizations operate in silos without much cooperation, collaboration or sharing.

"Meanwhile, the work that WSS, SSSA and Core Project has done together has not only been highly creative and successful, but is creating an artistic bridge throughout the Fox Valley," he said in an email before the event.

"We felt that we needed to share our good fortune with others. It was a moral obligation."

Saturday, Kirkhoff said he counted more than 60 participants representing a variety of interests, including the performing arts, visual arts, arts outreach groups, universities and governmental bodies.

He described the turnout as "awesome," noting the biggest challenge that faces new events is educating potential attendees about the event's purpose.

From the keynote address – "Connecting the Arts: Thoughts on Collaboration and Advocacy" by Janet Carl Smith, former commissioner of the city of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs – to afternoon presentations and break-out sessions, the conference highlighted different types of collaboration.

In her work with bureaucracies, Carl Smith said she often had few resources to work with and guessed that many conference attendees face similar situations.

"For me," she said, "collaboration was really key."

Carl Smith said the conference was a great start toward building a network.

"Your needs might be somebody's assets," she said. "The opportunity to come together today … is really very special."

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