Building a Creative Community at the Intersection of Art, Risk & Meaning

Wild Goose Creative's new home in Franklinton - Photo by Taijuan Moorman

Art is a big piece of the Columbus community and culture, and when you can intertwine it with doing good, great things are sure to come. That’s exactly what Wild Goose Creative does daily in their mission to build a creative community at the intersection of art, risk and meaning. 

SocialVentures had the wonderful opportunity to interview Lydia Simon, the executive director of Wild Goose Creative, for an inside look at her journey with the company, its impact, and what’s ahead for Wild Goose.

Heide Rembold: Can you give me a little bit of background on yourself? 

Lydia Simon: Before joining Wild Goose Creative in 2017, I completed my Bachelor’s degree in Arts Management from Ohio State University and Master’s degree in Advanced Chinese Language and Culture. I’ve worked for internationally recognized arts spaces in the U.S. and China, as well as completed two years of extensive research regarding cultural policy in Beijing. I’m also an adjunct faculty member within Columbus College of Art and Design’s Business, Math and Entrepreneurship Department teaching Arts Management and Marketing and Fundraising for the Arts.

HR: What is your experience with the social enterprise space?

LS: I first heard the term ‘social enterprise’ during my arts management courses at Ohio State. We also attended The Techstars Startup Week in 2018 on social enterprises in Columbus where we learned that in addition to non-profits, mission is the bottom line in social enterprises as well. The importance of entrepreneurship in both social enterprises and non-profits is key. Regardless of how the business may be structured, the question is how do we create a sustaining business model whereby we can serve our mission to the greatest degree possible?

HR: What was the idea and inspiration behind Wild Goose Creative? 

LS: Wild Goose Creative (WGC) is a non-profit community arts organization whose mission is to build a creative community at the intersection of art, risk and meaning. Over the past 13 years, we have provided the Columbus community with affordable, accessible programming including storytelling, performance art, visual art, comedy, improv, culinary and more. WGC is a great place to meet people who have shared interests, grow networks and experience something new.

We serve as an incubator for local creatives through affordable space, educational workshops, mentorships and career-building opportunities. We pride ourselves on making it easy for anyone to take an idea and make it a reality within our space. In a typical year we’re proud to offer over 320 multidisciplinary creative events connecting arts and audiences in Columbus.

HR: How does Wild Goose Creative work?

LS: We are structured as a non-profit organization, but there are aspects of our operations that are similar to that of a social enterprise. Through grants, donations, and space rental fees, we can subsidize the cost of space rental for creatives and other non-profits. Creatives can rent the space for a 50% discount, allowing them to take risks, build audiences and experiment. In the past year, we’ve paid over $42,000 to creatives through gallery sales, mural commissions, workshop/teaching fees, special projects and fiscal sponsor partnerships.

We also strongly believe in encouraging and facilitating creative entrepreneurship. Through a variety of professional development and creative workshops, we’re proud to be an incubator-space allowing for professional and economic development for local artists and creatives.

HR: Since the pandemic began, what difficulties have you come across? How have you pivoted?  

LS: As any non-profit arts organization during the pandemic, we’ve faced many challenges and had to make tough decisions. In 2019, we launched a successful Kickstarter to expand to a second location in the heart of the Franklinton Arts District. The pandemic severely impacted our revenue, and we made the decision to close our original location on Summit Street and move permanently to Franklinton. Thanks to our generous partners at 400 West Rich, we temporarily occupied the Bridge Gallery while our new location was being renovated. We are so proud and excited to have opened our doors in Franklinton this past July.

In a normal year, we’re proud to offer over 320 events. This past year we hosted less than 90. Some of our programs and events shifted easily to an online platform, while others did not. With a significant decrease in presented events, our board and staff worked tirelessly to support our community-led programs and initiate new programs based on the needs of our patrons such as basic art workshops, cooking classes and more. We also continued to utilize our social media as a digital platform for creatives to connect with new audiences via interviews, blog posts and Instagram takeovers.

HR: Where do you see the future of the Wild Goose Creative going? What are your biggest visions, hopes, and dreams?

LS: Our new space in Franklinton is two times bigger than our previous location, allowing us to offer even more space for creatives. We’re excited to be in the heart of Columbus’ most exciting, fastest-growing arts district. In addition to continuing to be an incubator for the arts in Columbus, we will be launching programs based on the needs of the Franklinton community. Our vision is to support a city and a world in which every creative is empowered and paid fairly.

HR: Aside from the pandemic, what has been something that has kept you up at night? What have been some of your biggest hurdles throughout the last few years?

LS: Navigating the closing of our old location and renovation of a new space during the pandemic has certainly been the biggest hurdle during my tenure at Wild Goose Creative. Articulating the need for support will always be a challenge for us and for other creative spaces. Now that we are fully open and operating in our new space, our next challenge is ensuring our future in the Franklinton Arts District so we can support our city’s creative class for years to come.

For more information, visit wildgoosecreative.com.

About SocialVentures

Founded in 2014, SocialVentures is a non-profit organization that advances remarkably good businesses—businesses that intentionally integrate social impact as a non-negotiable component of their business model. To contact SocialVentures, send an email to info@socialventurescbus.com or visit socialventurescbus.com.

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