It didn’t take long for Ramona Daniels to find Kokomo’s art community. In fact, she had already been in contact with the Kokomo Art Association before moving to the city.
For a while, Daniels said, she focused on teaching art classes and throwing painting parties. Her actual artistic production hovered around hobby level while she bulked up an inventory. Now, using a scholarship from the Greater Kokomo Downtown Association, Daniels is putting more emphasis on the business side of her artwork.
Earlier this year, people who wanted to start creative business ventures – or had recently started one – were given the opportunity to apply for Greater Kokomo’s Creative and Culinary Entrepreneur Scholarship. Through the scholarship, the Downtown District hopes to enrich Kokomo’s economy and connect budding businesses with property owners.
Susan Alexander, manager of downtown creative placemaking at Greater Kokomo, explained the organization is calling it a scholarship, rather than a grant, because it views applicants as students who are learning to develop their businesses.
Recipients of the Creative and Culinary Entrepreneur Scholarship were each awarded $ 750. Additionally, Alexander explained, the Downtown Association has been trying to connect recipients with people who could help grow the business.
For example, Alexander said the organization helped connect culinary applicant Samantha Bushong, owner of MacLand food truck, with the Art Association for the April First Friday event. Alexander added that venues seem to enjoy greater success during events when collaborating with other businesses.
“They’re excited, they want to move forward and they’ve got some great ideas, all of which I think Kokomo will benefit from,” Alexander said.
Funds for the Downtown Association scholarship were acquired through the Indiana Main Street organization. While applying for a grant to offset the cost of Greater Kokomo salaries, the Downtown Association saw there was an extra $ 10,000 available for organizations that presented plans for post-pandemic economic development. Kokomo and Jeffersonville were the only cities that received the extra funds.
Ten of the 12 initial applicants received the scholarship funds. To join the program, applicants had to submit marketing and business plans, as well as a budget for things that could help launch or grow their business.
Of the 10 applicants, four plan to develop artistic businesses and six plan to develop culinary businesses.
Daniels, who primarily works with oil paint, said she applied for the scholarship program after encouragement from the Art Association president, Cheryl Sullivan.
“To my amazement, I got it,” Daniels said. “And I thought it was, for me, a wonderful opportunity because it came with a wealth of information.”
The painter said starting artists don’t get enough education in the business side of art.
“They go to school and they learn all the technical stuff. But they don’t really learn the things you need to know to become a professional artist, ”Daniels said, adding that the Downtown District has helped her form proper marketing and business plans.
The Downtown District also helped Daniels display a few paintings in Beckley Office Equipment & Supply window display on Main Street. She used the scholarship money to acquire professional liability insurance and supplies.
As a long term goal, Daniels said she dreams of opening her own gallery to promote other artists, similar to the Art Association’s gallery. She would also like to see more members of the community show appreciation for local artists, noting that it took six years in Kokomo to be primarily recognized as an artist.
The Middle of Nowhere food truck first began selling Chicago-style sandwiches in October. Staci Haus, owner of the food truck, said the scholarship program mostly helped her pay bills, purchase a flag to advertise the truck and supplies for First Friday events.
The Downtown Association’s Facebook page also promoted Haus’ food truck for the April First Friday event, when Haus organized an appearance with MO Joe Coffee House.
During the March First Friday, which had a going green theme, she gave out seeds and planting supplies. The April First Friday fell on April Fools’ Day, so Haus gave out free gags and treats.
In the future, Haus plans to attend more events to grow the business.
“I think it’s really important for us to stay involved with our local community because obviously, without them, we wouldn’t be able to be successful,” Haus said.
Interactive dinner theater
Tony Budenz, owner of 4411 Creative Agency, applied for the scholarship hoping to launch an immersive dinner theater experience.
“I love live theater and I think it’s done very well around here,” Budenz said, giving a shout out to Kokomo Civic Theater and Curtain Call. “But I’ve been to a few bigger cities where it’s a little grittier and there’s a different experience sometimes.”
Budenz has been working on the project for three years. He and other people working on the project had been considering the second floor of Sun King Kokomo as a performance space before the COVID-19 pandemic started. Now that live performance is making a come back, they’re looking at the venue again.
Ultimately, Budenz said he would like to see the project put out four shows a year. He added the project could also have an educational element that would teach skills like stage design and play writing. If the initial show is well attended, Budenz said he would like to produce multiple shows before the end of the year.
Budenz said he and other people working on the project are still considering which show to use for the dinner theater’s initial production. The group is torn between three choices and Budenz doesn’t think any of the three have been performed in Kokomo before. Once a decision is made, a portion of the scholarship money will go towards securing rights for the play. Other funds will be allocated to business insurance and set construction. If preparations go as planned, Budenz said he would like the first show to premiere in July or August.
When the scholarship program ends, recipients will submit a final budget showing how they spent the money and fill out a review of the program.
“With just this small scholarship, it’s inspired our local creative folks to pursue their dream, pursue their ideas and hopefully bring them to the Kokomo community,” Alexander said.