Em Johnson

Executive Director, Blue Sky Center

Session: Rural Prosperity through the Arts and Creative Sector (Friday 1:30 – 3:15pm)

Through measured and deliberate work, Em leads rural innovation through social enterprises and systems thinking. She is motivated by holistic community investment that uses celebratory tools of art, and creative community engagement. She is often bringing people together over food. At Blue Sky Center, Em connects people to resources, developing a self-sufficient model by blending entrepreneurial initiatives to reclaim the power of rural resiliency.  
Blue Sky Center is is a nonprofit community organization in New Cuyama, CA working in the multi-faceted arenas of rural community development by supporting a local economy based on entrepreneurship and a “Made in Cuyama” ethic. Like so many places, New Cuyama and the Cuyama Valley face the impacts of globalization, namely when a single company once provided the majority of employment and infrastructural support. Depopulation across rural America has left communities to deal with inefficiencies of scale and underutilized, aging infrastructure, stymied by the ethos of “what used to be.” Rather than corporate or governmental leadership, rural communities often look to faith-based organizations, civic groups, and neighbors to carry the community safety net. By addressing the root causes of inequity within our rural places, community leaders can forge more effective public-private collaboration across all sectors, ultimately supporting rural opportunity and investment. 
Our facility, a sprawling midcentury industrial commercial complex (which once was Atlantic Richfield Oil) is developing to be a cornerstone of small business and local economic progress for the Cuyama Valley communities. Our community steers the future of our valley through collaborative decision-making and ownership, becoming the vehicle of equitable investment for our existing economic sectors. Blue Sky Center’s mission is to strengthen our rural communities within the Cuyama Valley by supporting entrepreneurs and building our regional creative and economic resources by: Using creative community engagement strategies to support housing and community infrastructure; hosting rural practitioners to co-author impactful, progressive work with our community; providing direct technical assistance to small manufacturers / enterprises; researching food processing, aggregation, and distribution infrastructure; and developing space and amenities for small startups and existing businesses. 

Em invites you to visit the Cuyama Valley and welcomes opportunities for cultural exchange!