ALTON — The concept of fostering a “creative economy” to accelerate urban revitalization has been embraced by a wide spectrum of supporters, from artists and cultural organizations to business leaders and financial institutions.
Attracting a group of creative individuals to a region is good for the economy; a concentration of professionals such as artists, architects, designers, chefs, computer programmers and university professors has proven to generate jobs and produce tax revenue.
Downtown Alton is gearing up for a workshop that aims to support the growth of fledgling creative businesses and open the door to resources that will help launch new ideas. The event will be Friday, April 22, at Jacoby Arts Center, 627 E. Broadway in the heart of Alton’s emerging creative district.
“A creative economy fuels synergy,” said Penny Schmidt, committee member of Alton Main Street. “A cooperative approach is smart business and intrinsic to the creative process. This ‘giving culture’ offers a supportive atmosphere that is welcoming and attractive. Old Bakery Beer Co., Hanson’s Meat, Riverbend Yoga, LuciAnna’s Pastries, State Street Market and The Milton Schoolhouse are great examples of our burgeoning we-economy.”
Kicking off the workshop from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. will be a presentation called Developing A Creative Economy from the University of Illinois Extension. Attendees will learn how residents, business and property owners, civic organizations, and city officials can create an environment where these types of businesses will choose to open their doors.
From 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. a “shark tank” session will feature 15 entrepreneurs presenting 2-minute pitches on their project or idea. A panel of business leaders will give feedback and advice, including Dale Blachford, president of Liberty Bank; Roger Lewis, executive assistant to John Simmons; Meredith Elliott, co-founder of the Milton Schoolhouse small business incubator as well as Maeva’s Coffee; Andrea Abbott, owner of the Gift Box, which features the work of more than 100 local artists and makers; Michael Gebben, award-winning videographer and founder of Gebbs Total Video; Chris Miller, CEO of The Mission Center, a social enterprise incubator and accelerator that provides education, capital sourcing, network building and access to resources at Washington University; and Mary Louise Helbig, mentor at Information Technology Entrepreneur Network at the Cortex innovation and technology district in St. Louis.
The registration fee for the presentations is $10, which includes appetizers from local culinary artists. Attendees will get a sneak peek of recipes from the Edible Art Bakery, a new venture within Jacoby Arts Center; chef Brian Runge of River City Savories will feature parmesan truffle artisan bread and citrus-flavored sourdough, served with fresh creamery butter and jam. The Old Bakery Beer Company will showcase its BLT bites: a bruschetta-type dish with bacon, tomato jam, mixed greens and garlic mayo, plus burrata, a mozzarella cheese filled with cream, topped with basil, olive oil, fleur de sel and pepper served with toasted baguette. The dishes will be accompanied by pickled carrots, asparagus, eggs and roasted red pepper with crostini. The menu will also include vegan carrot soup from State Street Market, and hand-crafted pita and hummus from XOXO Label, which is produced in St. Louis and available at Grassroots Grocery in Alton. Dessert of small-bite cookies and brownies will be provided by LuciAnna’s Pastries.
Finally, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., a Creative Entrepreneur Cocktail Expo will take place in the main gallery, which is free and open to the public. During the party, creatives can browse informational tables and find avenues for support through organizations and agencies such as Alton Main Street, Jacoby Arts Center, Illinois Metro East Small Business Development Center, Volunteer Lawyers & Accountants for the Arts, Abbey Inc. Graphic Design & Support Services, MJ Stover Accounting, Dark Horse Art Works, Alton Museum of History & Art, Southwestern UAV Aerial Photography, Green Earth ASAP Technology and Pearl Pro Audio & Case Company.
During the expo, questions can be answered regarding available real estate, opportunities will be offered to sell or consign handmade wares at retail stores, galleries and events, and contact information will be provided to local musicians for booking agents at Downtown venues. The event will also be a supportive atmosphere to network with successful business mentors, financial lenders and media. A cash bar will be provided.
Attendees may still register for the workshop online at www.DowntownAlton.com, or pay by cash or check at the door. All of the slots for the shark tank panel and the expo have been filled. The public is encouraged to make plans to continue the conversation at the next What’s Up Downtown gathering from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 17, at Jacoby Arts Center.
The event is presented by Alton Main Street, Simmons Hanly Conroy, Liberty Bank and Jacoby Arts Center, with support from the Small Business Development Center at SIUE and Pearl Pro Audio. These partners are available to help entrepreneurs navigate obstacles so they can take their businesses to the next level. Developers are welcome to attend the workshop to learn about investment opportunities in Downtown Alton’s historic district and become acquainted with Alton’s growing creative culture.