What Keeps Your Mayor Up at Night: Your Mayor’s Priorities Explained

Posted by Jay H. Dick, Jun 01, 2017 0 comments

Mayors are on the front line of government. If there is a pothole, constituents don’t call the White House or the Governor’s Mansion; they call City Hall. In other words, the buck stops with mayors to provide services to the residents of their cities. So, what do mayors prioritize and/or worry about?

Americans for the Arts’ partner, the National League of Cities (NLC), just published their 2017 State of the Cities report which analyzed mayors’ State of the Cities Addresses and catalogued the top issues. NLC hosted a press conference with a panel to discuss their findings. (I was able to ask a question at the 1:12:00 mark.) 

Gary, IN Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, Tampa, FL Mayor Bob Buckhorn, and NLC Senior Executive & Director, Center for City Solutions Brooks Rainwater at the State of the Cities Press Conference.

Not surprisingly, economic development was at the top of the mayors’ priority list, with 66 percent of mayors indicating this is a top issue for them. Following Economic Development was Public Safety (64 percent), Infrastructure (43 percent), Budgets (43 percent) and rounding out the top five was Housing (42 percent). 

Graph courtesy of the National League of Cities.

NLC also broke down these ten categories and noted substantial sub-topics. I was pleased, but not surprised, to see that “Arts & Culture” was one of the five Economic Development sub-topics. I was pleased for several reasons: One, that mayors are talking about the arts and culture in serious ways; two, that NLC (and mayors) see arts and culture as being a subset of economic development; and lastly, that the arts and culture were on par with employment issues, downtown development, and business attraction—topics that are very serious and essential.

Graph courtesy of the National League of Cities.

Let’s go back to the top ten list for a moment. While Arts & Culture is overtly listed with Economic Development, it is also part of at least 9 of the 10 topics.

Arts and culture affect almost every aspect of our lives.

Public Safety: Communities with arts and culture organizations are seen as safer by their residents, and the arts act as a bridge between the community and police. Further, arts in prison programs assist with recidivism rates and help children of incarcerated family members cope.

Infrastructure: Areas that are well lit and have public art or murals attract pedestrians, bikes, and even auto traffic, which lead to more vibrant communities.

Budgets: The arts and culture generate tax revenue far beyond any government investment, adding dollars to city coffers and helping the city’s budget.

Housing: In order for a community to be vibrant, all people need to be able to afford to live in the city. Many arts organizations work to provide affordable housing to artists and their families.

Education: There is vast research that shows that children with even minimal arts education perform better academically and socially than their peers.

Energy & Environment: The arts and culture highlight these topics and educate the population about the threat of climate change, and the negative effects that might occur should we not change the way we use our natural resources and treat the Earth.

Health: Art therapy programs work across all health delivery platforms to provide effective health care services to children and adults. The biggest area of research and programs is among our military, where art therapy serves to help veterans with PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

Demographics: This may sound like a boring topic, but once you look deeper, you see that mayors are concerned about diversity, immigration, veterans, and seniors’ quality of life in their cities. The arts work to unite peoples of different ethnic and social backgrounds into common spaces for better understanding and acceptance.

Data and Technology: This is an important topic for mayors. Alas, this mathematical topic is very nuanced in data collection and storage, and the arts don’t play a major role, but I would like to point out that the arts and design do play a role when this data is gathered and presented! (But, please comment below if you think I missed a connection!)

It is of interest that NLC’s 10 topics (along with the subtopics) closely track with Americans for the Arts’ New Community Visions Initiative, where 30 such topics were identified that keep our communities vibrant, healthy, and equitable.

So, the next time you see your mayor, after you thank them, remind them about all the ways they actually do care about the arts and culture. Some are more obvious (economic development), while others are not so obvious (demographics), but once you unpack these topics, the importance of the arts and culture cannot be underestimated. 

Jay H. Dick is a member of Americans for the Arts.

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