Arts and Culture

A program focused on equity in the arts and reframing what art can be has started a business incubator with several local participants. 

Equity in Arts, from the nonprofit Lodgic Everyday Community, is a national effort that piloted in Louisville.

Recently, it launched its InSightFull Business Accelerator, a two-year program designed to help creative entrepreneurs focus full-time on growing their businesses. There are three tracks for the accelerator: visual arts, performing arts and workplace wellness. And Lodgic Everyday Community has backed it with more than $250,000.

The ultimate goal for the Equity in Arts program overall is a million-dollar investment over the several years, according to CEO Cheryl Farr.

The 2022-2024 cohort includes artist and arts educator Julia Youngblood; poet, spoken word artist and writer Robin Garner; and Airlea and Ian Williams of Reconcile Consulting.

Meet the cohort

Youngblood, whose business is called Youngblood Harmonizing Arts, said she was excited about the opportunity when Woods approached because it seemed like their missions synced up.

“I love making art with people,” Youngblood said. “Sometimes people think of it as arts education. But really, I like making art alongside people… I like seeing how excited people get when they’re making something that they can feel good about, that is not cookie cutter, but really unique to their own vision, their own ancestry, their own person.”

Youngblood said she’s developing workshops she hopes to start offering in February, and is building up toward an exhibition in the spring. 

Robin Garner was working full-time in health care before she got the call from Woods. At the same time, she’d been trying to grow her artistic business, Robin G. Poetry. Garner offers workshops focused on creative writing and positive affirmations. 

She said, “with the way Lodgic is supporting us during this contract,” she’s able to focus on her art without juggling another job. 

“It works with the alignment of what I was already doing in the community, what I’ve been doing for the past 10-plus years in the community,” Garner said. “So to come in and be supported consistently, in a way that I was able to move how I’ve been moving, but with a greater impact, it was just a no-brainer for me.”

Garner said she plans to launch workshops in mid- to late-February. 

For Airlea and Ian Williams of Reconcile Consulting, it was also an easy yes. 

Airlea has a background in mental health care, and Ian has worked with nonprofits and done consulting work. They plan to focus on their coaching and consulting programs while participating in the accelerator. 

“We sit at the intersection of leadership and mental wellness, which translates several ways: organizational wellness, workplace wellness, ties into leadership development, ties into mental health awareness, diversity, inclusion,” Ian said. 

They hope to begin offering their services as soon as the end of January. 

All of the InSightFull Business Accelerator cohort participants are also collaborating on programs they hope to offer soon.

“Whether it be creative writing workshops, midday mindfulness, visual arts, open mics, like we’re going to have something for everyone, and everyone is going to feel welcome,” Gardner said of the collaborations brewing. 

‘Deconstructing’ the hiring process

“These individuals are vested, not only in their own craft, their own art, their own businesses, but the businesses around them, the individuals around them,” said Marlesha Woods, an artist and the national director of Equity in Arts. 

The participants didn’t have to go through an extensive interview process. That was important to Woods, who selected each member of the inaugural cohort.

“It’s a way to deconstruct the process of hiring,” she continued. “I know it’s a boring topic. But when you get into HR work, there’s so many ways, in terms of art-based programming, how people are filling spaces, and how they’re sharing spaces. And this was an opportunity to create an access point that doesn’t have to be centered around a resume, or recommendation letter, or extremely long interview process.”

Woods said they hope to launch Equity in Arts’ artist residency program sometime over the summer. 

Equity in Arts, of which the business accelerator is a part of, “is a holistic program to engage the community all year long,” according to Woods. 

It grew out of two already-existing Lodgic programs that were designed to foster business development or support local artists by displaying their work in Lodgic facilities. 

“Outside of that we’re growing and developing programming that will not only just be about acquisition, but education, building up the artists and also just giving them a holistic approach to how we speak about art,” Woods said. “Art is more than just visual and performing arts.”

Woods believes the arts can be a way to support mental health or help solve business problems, but that requires “redefining what art can be.”

Stephanie Wolf is WFPL's Arts & Culture Reporter.