Why Does a Community Need an Arts District?

Posted by Jeffrey Parks, Jul 26, 2013 0 comments

The threshold question for any use of public and private resources is “Why should we allocate these precious resources to create an arts district when there are so many needs in our community?”

Indeed, an arts district may not be the priority when all of the needs of a community have been analyzed. There are specific circumstances that merit the consideration of an arts district in communities. The need will set the metrics for the success of a district.

Some of the specific needs which an arts district can support are:

  • Urban revitalization. The major strategy for this need is attracting artists and arts organization to underutilized properties. If revitalization is the goal, the metrics may include:

    • Increase in access to the arts and cultural services for the residents of the district.
    • Increased employment opportunities for residents of the district.
    • Attracting investment, new businesses and residents to the district.
    • Enhancing property values in the district.
  • Economic development of the region by expanding arts and cultural offerings that appeal to the “creative class” in fields ranging from software engineers to medical professionals to graphic designers. If this is the goal, the metrics may include:

    • Ability of businesses to attract creative class employees, rather than moving or adding offices in distant communities.
    • Attraction of creative businesses into the community.
    • Increase in new businesses generated by local residents or graduates of local colleges.
  • Adding an arts component to an existing retail district to enhance vitality and competitiveness of an urban center. If this is the goal, the metrics may include:

    • Increased revenues for district businesses.
    • New businesses in the district.
    • Making the district a destination, with multiple attractions including shopping, art galleries, arts facilities and events.

In most communities the reason for establishing an arts district will be combination of the reasons above. It is important to understand that districts and “creative placemaking” are not ends in and of themselves. There is a great deal of conversation about the metrics for success for these endeavors. The best way for a community to measure its success is to set goals and establish the metrics in advance. This important decision will inform everything from the type of organization to drive a district to what resources need to be marshaled to create the desired results.

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