A recipe for growth and innovation: take Louisville’s business and entrepreneurial spirit, infuse it with the creativity and experimentation of the arts world, then stir into one chamber of commerce to create powerful, strategic networks spanning all major industries.
Let’s call this concoction I.D.E.A.S 40203, art + sustainable economic development, described as “a business association created to pioneer new ways for artists to help Louisville’s corporate culture become more dynamic, productive and innovative.”
Theo Edmonds is the mad scientist behind the formula of I.D.E.A.S 40203 and extraordinarily passionate about the unlimited potential of such a union. He was so exuberant and eager to share that I didn’t need to prompt him with a question for the first 20 minutes of my visit to the I.D.E.A.S 40203 space in Old Louisville.
“We are building one of the most innovative business consulting groups anywhere in the country, says Edmonds. “Except instead of staff consultants, we have contract consultants who happen to be some of the most innovative artists working around the world, identified on a case-by-case basis to fit the specific need and culture of the member organization that we’re working with.”
I.D.E.A.S. 40203 has its roots in its sister corporation, Residency Unlimited in New York, an organization working primarily with European artists on New York projects.
Edmonds, who had a successful corporate career in healthcare administration before entering the art world, was one of the first American artists to work with them.
He and fellow Residency Unlimited curator (and University of Louisville graduate) Boshko Boskovic were developing ideas for how to create an arts pipeline between New York and Louisville when John Enochs approached him. Enochs had just acquired the Old Louisville Chamber of Commerce as an investment property.
“So we’re standing in phase one of proof of concept,” says Edmonds. “The foundation of that network between contemporary artists in New York and Louisville. But we’re also in a chamber of commerce, and we started to think about the implications of that.”
So phase two: business/artist networks. To create a feedback loop.
The core mission: to identify contemporary artists who have an interest and are a good fit for project-by-project businesses interested in having a stronger, more dynamic, innovative corporate culture within their individual business and their industry.
To create that loop, Edmonds would meet with a business member and analyze problem/opportunity identification, drafted up like a case study. From there, that gets passed off to Residency Unlimited to put out the call for artists. When one is identified who best fits the need, they’re brought into the business to consult.
“Here’s what an artist can do. An artist goes into the studio to produce a painting. That painting is realized through any number of choices made along the way, always holding the end result in mind. So artists are used to holding present decision making simultaneously with a future goal and realizing that there are different ways to get there. Imagine that kind of thinking applied to your business. Imagine that kind of thinking applied to your city.”
He acknowledges the concept can be tough to grasp at first glance, and while experimental in some ways, it’s tried and true in others.
“Take Silicon Valley,” he says. “Silicon Valley has done a tremendous job with that feedback loop. You have an artist, a designer, an engineer, a programmer — all at the same table together. There’s a history of that collaboration going into making things transformational for our society. Now, what if we take that kind of design type thinking and instead of a product, apply that to a business or city and its future prosperity?”
Locally, he cites Actors Theatre as a model of an organization that brought artists into Louisville, engaged in challenging concepts, like the Humana Festival, and made both the organization and the city rise in stature.
And he believes Louisville is the perfect place and this the perfect time.
“What about Louisville is not suited for this? We have an entrepreneur as our mayor who has set out an entrepreneurial path for the city that is really quite amazing. We have a history with contemporary art and entrepreneurship with 21c. We’re a river town. We have hundreds of years of history of new ideas coming in and out to make our town stronger and better, both economically and creatively. This is what we’ve always done.”
“We’re really starting to realize our full potential. And we’re not operating from a place of crisis, as a lot of other cities are; we’re operating from a place of opportunity. That’s a big distinction.”
On December 10, I.D.E.A.S 40203 will host Mix and Pivot. It’s a contemporary artist and entrepreneur meet up, bringing those two groups together to begin actively recruiting new members into the organization over the next year.
“We’re in an experimental phase,” says Edmonds, “but we’re in it for the long run. If you are an innovative person or business, we are looking for like-minded folks. We can help you plug into a newly forming group of artist and entrepreneurs ready to make dynamic things happen.”
For more information and to find out how to join, visit I.D.E.A.S 40203.