AIR has evolved since its humble beginnings in 2012 in Fort Collins, Colorado. We’ve transformed from a small town’s big idea to an impactful program that has served several thousand artists, creatives and communities across the United States.
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.
Like many, 2020 was a transformative year for the AIR Institute.
In January and February Beth Flowers led AIR Facilitator Trainings for the six Appalachian state affiliates in Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee. Shift Workshops were held in Martinsville, VA and Logan, OH. On Saturday, February 29 Beth finished the last training and drove from Berea, KY to the new home of the AIR Institute in Frederick, Maryland, just in time to lock down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But, of course, nothing stopped; everything just changed! Because of the success and national demand for the AIR programs, Berea College and AIR had decided that it was best to allow AIR the freedom to evolve and expand. Frederick, Maryland was identified as a great place for the new AIR Institute headquarters because of its vibrant arts scene, deep connection to the mountains of Western Maryland, and proximity to Washington D.C., airports and easy transportation routes to the existing AIR affiliates in Appalachia. In March, the AIR Institute incorporated as a Maryland nonprofit corporation, seated a national board, and on March 30, Berea College transferred all intellectual and financial assets of the program to the new AIR Institute.
April 1, Beth Flowers was formally hired as the Executive Director of the AIR Institute by the Board of Directors. Fortunately, a home office for Beth was always the plan for AIR as it began its evolution to a national model, so when COVID-19 changed all of our lives, AIR was well situated for shifting and evolving to new online platforms and models.
During May and June, the Board of Directors and Beth refined and adopted a new mission statement and values that we are proud of and believe will take AIR to its vision of raising the value of the arts and creativity in every community across the country. New strategies and delivery models are now in development and there are plans for new state affiliates and programs that will reach the entire United States.
July brought official 501C3 federal nonprofit tax status and now new partners and affiliates are preparing for virtual, hybrid, and maybe even in-person trainings in 2021.
The AIR Institute provides rural and under-resourced communities with programming that inspires new connections and ignites the creative economy. Creative people expand business skills, businesspeople get more creative; they learn to collaborate, adapt, and thrive together.
The AIR Institute is built upon values of diversity, equity, and inclusion. We believe diversity of people, opinions, and experiences, at decision-making tables, make communities and economies stronger. We believe that historical and current inequities must be addressed and remedied. We work to ensure that our communities have full access to essential education, tools, and resources that build self-determination, resilience, cultural equity, and creativity. We practice and teach consensus-based collaboration. We believe every community is unique and should define its own measure of success: quality of life, economic stability, individual accessibility, and opportunity.
Beet Street, the City of Fort Collins Cultural Services Department, and Colorado State University LEAP (Leadership, Entrepreneurship, Arts Advocacy and the Public) joined together to find solutions to the problems facing the arts community in our small city in Northern Colorado. We researched professional development programs and arts and business incubators across the country, and explored new distance learning and social networking technologies. We also reviewed the challenges facing the arts communities in other states in the Intermountain West region and discovered that we had common problems to solve. Beet Street worked with the Kauffman Foundation to pilot a non-profit arts version of the FastTrac business planning program. Twelve local arts organizations participated – including the emerging arts incubation team that eventually became AIR.
After a year of collaborative research and planning, the incubator project was awarded a $100,000 National Endowment for the Arts Our Town grant to design and build a regional arts incubator that would be headquartered in the Fort Collins City-owned Carnegie Library Building.
Beet Street officially named and created the Arts Incubator of the Rockies – or AIR – to serve a 10 state region of the Intermountain West that included more than 280,000 professional artists and creatives.
We hosted a regional gathering of State Arts Council leaders from across the Intermountain West. The goal of the summit was to engage regional partners at an early stage of the development of AIR and to learn how to make AIR programs valuable throughout the region. The agenda included presentations, art facility tours, and visioning exercises.
Representatives from the arts councils for the states of Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, and South Dakota participated. Additionally, a representative from WESTAF attended.
All the states in attendance, and WESTAF agreed that they were supportive partners of AIR and committed to contributing to the development of curriculum, providing assistance with fundraising, marketing, networking, and outreach for the program.
In January 2012, we began Curriculum and website development. Hundreds of people, from nearly a dozen states participated in our planning process and curriculum design. Folks from seven states participated in pilots that helped refine the Shift Workshop and Evolve Program.
Meanwhile, the AIR website was being finalized, and launched in September. Members started to join and share their work and stories. People also began to share knowledge, events and opportunities throughout the region, creating a hub of support and a network of connections.
In March of 2013, we presented the first official AIR Shift Workshop in Fort Collins, CO. The workshop sold out, with attendees joining from as far as Michigan and Canada.The second Evolve pilot ran from April to September with 15 participants from across Colorado.The first semester of a modified Shift curriculum, Higher Education Internship Seminar ran at Colorado State University with twelve undergraduates.
2014 brought significant changes – AIR formally separated from Beet Street and was designated a new nonprofit corporation with 501C3 charitable organization federal tax designation.
AIR moved its offices to Loveland, Colorado, just down the road from Fort Collins.
Also in 2014, we designed a new delivery method for our curriculum and programs – the local affiliate, train-the-trainer model. In August, we successfully piloted our first facilitator trainings.
An AIR Shift Workshop, hosted by COPPeR and led by newly trained AIR Facilitators, was held in Colorado Springs in and for the first time, $5,000 was available to help implement projects that came out of the workshop.
2015 brought expansion beyond the Intermountain West. Berea College in Berea, Kentucky became a Local Affiliate and six people were trained to facilitate the AIR:Shift Workshop. In September participants of the Brushy Fork Institute were able to attend an AIR:Shift Workshop. AIR also launched a new website and edited and re-designed the AIR:Shift Participant Guide for better usability and deeper content.
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.