Things are Starting to Look Up (from Arts Watch)

Posted by Justin Knabb, Aug 18, 2010 1 comment

Justin Knabb

Downturns. Busts. Shortfalls. Cutbacks. Flat-funding. These oft-cited buzzwords, which we have all heard ad nauseum (and which I am guilty of gluttonously using as well, ironic intro included), seem to particularly embed themselves in the discourse of the arts world. As the writer of a publication which tracks state and local funding trends in the arts, I’m keenly cognizant of the topics on which I rarely get to write: Upturns. Boons. Surpluses. Increases. Robust funding. (Okay, I was reaching with that last one.) But over the past few weeks, I have noticed a new, encouraging trend developing in both large and small cities all across the country: the establishment and expansion of arts districts.

These districts, usually designated through city zoning laws, with tax benefits, house the collective creativity of a community. They contain city streets lined with art galleries, theaters, studios, museums, performing arts centers, and of course, the individuals who make it all possible: artists.

As advocates, we constantly espouse the economic benefit of investing in the arts—pleas that often fall on deaf ears during times of financial turmoil (another clichéd phrase of the recession). But some cities appear to be hearing those pleas, and are engaging in concerted efforts to revitalize their economies and their infrastructures through the arts.

Here is a look at some promising new developments:

Auburn, NY—Leaders of the arts community recently provided a presentation to city officials on how to spur artistic and economic revitalization. The presentation focused on the city of Paducah, KY, a city with a comparable population to Auburn (27,000). Paducah spent around $3 million between 2001–2007 to establish an arts district to attract artists, businesses, and tourists. This relatively small investment generated approximately $40 million in revenue during the same time period, and advocates in Auburn believe the same can hold true for their city."

Englewood, MO —The city passed an ordinance last week that paves the way for the creation of an arts district. The purpose of the ordinance is to “preserve and enhance the area as a center for a variety of retail, business services, housing, and office uses and to promote a strong pedestrian character…” with the hope that “…new structures and buildings will provide the opportunity to create a focus for revitalization and promotion of the cultural and artistic environment.”

Leesburg, VA — Town council members recently received a proposal for the establishment of an Arts and Cultural District from the local Economic Development Commission and the Commission on Public Art, among others. Developers in Leesburg believe the use of tax incentives and exemptions will encourage more businesses to relocate or open up branches in the city, thus attracting a multitude of theaters, art galleries, performing arts venues, and museums.

Palmer, AK—Local artists are working to create an arts colony - a communal area where residential and visiting artists can come together to create, share, and explore all genres of artistic expression. Supporters are hoping to branch out and develop more community partnerships with local businesses as a way to showcase artists’ talents as well as provide enhanced advertising for both businesses and the artists.

While a great amount of budgetary uncertainty continues to plague government agencies and nonprofits, I find it quite comforting that communities all across the nation are not giving up on social and economic development through the arts. If these cities, and others throughout the United States, are successful in fully developing and enhancing their arts districts, they will be poised to come out of the recession as cultural and economic leaders. At they very least, they will be immune to the repetitive buzzwords heaped upon the nation by its punditry. 

Arts Watch is a weekly cultural policy publication of Americans for the Arts that covers news in a variety of categories related to cultural policy including Culture and Communities, Arts Education and the Creative Workforce, Public Investment in Culture and Creativity, and Philanthropy and the Private Sector. The newsletter also features an Arts Watch Spotlight item and Arts Canvas – News from the Field, a short piece written by a different Americans for the Arts staffer each week.

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1 responses for Things are Starting to Look Up (from Arts Watch)


Ayu says
August 24, 2010 at 1:51 am

Nice website and comment on arts.

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