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With about 250 resident artists and 300 art studios, galleries, and specialty shops nestled into one of the most scenic areas of Indiana, Brown County has been Indiana’s treasured art colony for decades.

Now, thanks in part to an ongoing partnership with Ball State, the community is poised to leverage its deep tradition of art into new jobs and a reinvigorated economic base. In doing so, it is broadening its definition of the arts to include all of the arts industry, such as fine arts, crafts, and visual arts.

The county’s push to refresh its economy started in 2005 when officials partnered with Ball State’s Building Better Communities initiative. In a project led by Stan Geidel, associate dean of the College of Fine Arts, faculty and students completed a study of the state of the arts, a feasibility and development plan for a new arts exhibition and performance center, and a review of related environmental and transportation issues.

The plan, which offered specific strategies and suggestions to elevate Brown County to an arts destination among the best in the nation, has stimulated a flurry of activity. Last year, a Business Fellows team helped the community plan a celebration to mark 100 years as an arts colony. As a part of the celebration, the team wrote, produced, and sought funding for a one-act play inspired by the works of T.C. Steele and the art colony. Recently, Ball State was involved in the opening of the Arts Industry Business Incubator, a place where artists and entrepreneurs can meet and form partnerships. Other parts of the initial plan and further partnerships with Ball State are still being considered.

“Effective economic development in the 21st century involves innovating, leveraging, diversifying, and partnering. The Arts Industry Business Incubator is an innovative initiative that leverages existing assets to diversify the local economy in partnership with Ball State,” says State Representative Eric Koch, who represents Brown County in the Indiana General Assembly. “Several years ago, the Indiana General Assembly called upon our state universities to become engaged in local economic development efforts. Through Building Better Communities, Ball State has answered this call.”