An artist’s challenge

With data to support him, cultural affairs director hopes to lure business support to county arts initiatives.

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Above all else, stand-up comedian Mark Fraire hopes businesses and communities learn to take the arts more seriously.

As director of Dane County Cultural Affairs – Dane Arts, Fraire administers grant money to local organizations and individuals whose creative culture pumps $250 million into the local economy every year, according to a recent study.

Fraire, 59, the youngest of six children in an artistic Mexican-American family that loved to laugh, grew up in Gary, Indiana before the family moved to the suburbs. “That was an awakening,” he says. “We were minorities in a non-minority town.” The Latino family directive, he notes, was, “you always have to be better to be equal.”

An elementary education and English grad from Western Michigan University, Fraire has been able to combine an inner passion for the stage with more than 20 years in arts administration.

We spoke with him recently about his artistic path and current mission.

IB: What led you to Madison?
Fraire: I went to Chicago to do stand-up comedy and improv and got invested in a local theater company. I soon realized I was a better manager than actor, so I decided there was more opportunity behind the scenes. I developed the community education department at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, worked for the Wisconsin Arts Board, the Madison Metropolitan School District, and got my MBA at UW–Madison before landing this position at Dane Arts.

IB: So you left your improv career?
Fraire: I make people laugh every day. To me, laughter allows you to relax and open up. I’ve never seen anyone laugh and commit a crime, unless they’re psychotic.

IB: Now you’re supporting the arts in Dane County.
Fraire: This is the first time in my career when I’m in charge and can advance the work of the creative economy and our incredible local artists. As a government office, I have access to resources that another nonprofit may not have, and that really strengthens the economy and community.

IB: What does Dane Arts do?
Fraire: We provide about $250,000 in grant money to support the arts, but we get over $500,000 in requests each year. I’ve implemented a Buy Local Dane Arts Night Market, which has done extremely well; DAMA, a Dane County Mural Arts program; and DADA, or Dane Arts Dance Arts supporting the work of individual choreographers. Individual artists often don’t have the resources to find funding for their projects.

IB: Tell us about the mural program.
Fraire: We have 42 murals around Dane County and several more planned. Murals require community input and can change neighborhoods for all people. The program started in 2015 on a whisper and a prayer. Frankly, the county didn’t think we could pull it together, but now it understands that these projects build community. We just received approval for a mural project on a wall at the Jobs Center on Aberg Avenue.



IB: Why should the business community care about the arts?
Fraire: Having a vibrant cultural arts scene helps businesses recruit younger workers to the area. We have numbers now, thanks to a 2016 study (2015 data). There are 9,000 people in the creative sector here working full-or part-time and the economic impact goes way beyond the art itself.

IB: How can businesses get involved?
Fraire: They can sponsor a local artist, consider hosting an artist-in-residence in their workplace, or purchase local artwork. I’d love a business to sponsor our DAMA program so we can hire kids over the summer months to paint murals when they have nothing else to do. Working with skilled muralists, they learn teamwork, math and science, the importance of showing up on time, and in the end, see the results of their work. How can that not make kids feel valued? It’s a no-brainer!

IB: How does art improve a community?
Fraire: If more people participated in the arts, we wouldn’t have achievement gaps. There would be no time for arguing, or bullying, or fighting, because there simply would be no time. But artists can do better, too, so I encourage them to be more visible — run for public office, sit on boards, or just get out in the community more.

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