Last year, we had an idea.

As a way to refine our focus on community, we wanted to elevate the creatives of our region who were either starting a project or finishing one. Sure, for OTA, that doesn’t seem like anything new, but to make it new, we wanted to revert our time and attention to only the work of 20 chosen people— support their ideas, write about and celebrate their progress, assign them a mentor and then put them on a stage where they could boldly and bravely tell an audience about said project.

We called it The Builders Program, and it worked.

It worked so well, and it made us so happy, that we are going to do it again.


OTA is funded under a three-year grant through the Bush Foundation in St. Paul, Minnesota, and that time is running out, which means this is a very big year for us. It means that every day, every week, every event we host and every person we meet matters to how this seven-year endeavor ends.

So this new program means a lot.

When we began the Builders experiment, we were looking forward to raising up 20 people in the OTA region. We were excited to really hone in on a certain group of creatives and see how much we could help them, but we were not prepared for just how meaningful and impassioned that work would become. We fell in love with their ideas, their energy and their drive to better their communities.

We meant to inspire them, but they inspired us.

The Builders program “was such an amazing opportunity to create life-long bonds with people who know and understand the creative struggle because they live, breath and hustle at it themselves,” said Karina Mork, a business owner and OTA Builder from Glenwood, Minnesota. “It is so easy to feel like an island, and now I have a group I can always go to and rely on. That’s huge. The Builder Program also validated the work that we’re doing, which fuels the creative fire and gumption needed to keep going.”
This time around, we can’t wait to renew that energy and bring a new group of creatives together, watch a new fount of relationships grow.
And we hope you will be a part of it.

Tell me more about the program!

Things will be a little different for this second cohort in the summer and fall of 2016. And that’s all thanks to Midco®. The local provider of business and residential internet, cable TV and phone service has stepped up to sponsor the program, which we will be calling our OTA Trailblazers. Over the next few months, Midco will work with us hand-in-hand to empower and equip the chosen Trailblazers of our region.

Also different this time around, we are only offering the program to up to six creatives from South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota. They need not be designers or photographers, but they must bring innovative ideas and a willingness to experiment for the betterment of their communities.

These individuals don’t take the well-worn paths; they build their own roads. And it’s all with their community in mind.

Each participant will be supported by Midco®, the OTA team and extended community over the course of three months, culminating at OTA’s final two events in the fall. They will present their work on Oct. 21 at OTA: Black Hills and will participate in a panel on Nov. 12 during The OTA Finale. For those presentation, individuals will receive a $1,500 honorarium.

Because this is a smaller group, we also intend to visit each Trailblazer’s hometown to feature and celebrate the work that they are doing as part of the program. Whether it’s creating a small evening event where they can talk about their work or hanging up posters in their local coffee shop, we look forward to letting their community know that someone is advocating for them. Someone has their best interest at heart.

In addition to the selected six, we will be inviting all Trailblazer candidates to have their applications published on our website and to be part of an invite-only Facebook group to serve as a support system over the next three months. This group will include past OTA Builders and members of the OTA advisory group as well. Anyone with a passion for their work and the places they call home will benefit greatly from this community.

We have now begun the selection process for our new OTA Trailblazers, and we will announce the final six in mid-July.

We can’t wait to meet you, and we thank Midco® for being a great part of this second endeavor!