ACEnet Collaborates with AIR: Shift – Central Appalachia. The AIR Institute (AIR) is an empowering ecosystem that provides artists, businesses and communities the tools, resources, and support to learn, connect, and succeed. AIR merges the creativity of the arts with the innovation of business to raise the value of arts and creativity in all our communities. AIR was created to teach creatives and business people to share their strengths and connect. AIR worked with hundreds of people across the Intermountain West to pilot and begin the implementation of the programs. In 2016, Berea College acquired the intellectual property of the AIR programs and hired Beth Flowers, the creative force and leader of the program, as the Director of the AIR Institute of Berea College.

Growing your local economy using a collaborative approach. That is the idea the AIR Shift curriculum was based upon. With support from the Ohio Arts Council, eleven facilitators from Ohio participated in a three day facilitation training in Huntington, WV taught by Beth Flowers of Berea College. Upon returning from the facilitation training, ACEnet determined that Nelsonville, Ohio was the community most ready for this innovative approach to economic development. ACEnet, in collaboration with Rural Action, Stuart’s Opera House, and Athens County, held a one day mini-workshop, Art Builds Business Builds Art, to assess the interest from community members. Over thirty local community members, employees, and AmeriCorps service members showed up to learn how traditional businesses and creatives can work together to bolster the local economy.

Art Builds Business Builds Art inspires participants and builds momentum for the three day, intensive workshop, known as “Shift.” The three day workshop earns its name from the desire to “shift” thinking about traditional business sectors and traditional creative sectors. It encourages these sectors, often divided, to come up with a collaborative business plan for their town. This business plan must have a budget of less than $10,000 and have an implementation time of less than one year. The Nelsonville Shift workshop drew 15 participants, working in three teams. At the end of the three days, teams presented their pitches to a panel of local judges, all with capacity to fund the projects.

Projects included: an interactive mural facing the highway to encourage travelers in the Hocking Hills region to hop off the highway for a picture (and more…) on the square in Nelsonville; a revitalization and marketing campaign centered around Nelsonville’s historic fountain; and a project that adds a community art and storytelling preservation aspect to the already existing Nelsonville Community Dinners.