How a Local Business Chamber & the Arts Work Together as a Vital Emergency Response and Long-Term Economic Vision

Posted by Mr. Adam Knapp, Ms. Renee Chatelain, Jul 08, 2020 0 comments

Unprecedentedresilientessential … are words we have heard much about during the COVID-19 crisis. These words, in fact, describe every artist, arts educator, and arts organization—and not just during an emergency. Each of us as human beings are heard, healed, uplifted, and empowered by and through the arts. In both unprecedented crises and unprecedented times, ART is essential. With a growing understanding of the vital role the arts play in successful communities, Baton Rouge Area Chamber has sought to better understand and formalize its relationship with the arts sector. Baton Rouge Area Chamber, under the leadership of President Adam Knapp, has been a phenomenal arts sector partner in the response to COVID-19. The Chamber has put their strategic planning process into action by looking to the arts community for responses to medical shortfalls in personal protective equipment, maintaining the gig economy, and creating campaigns which promote safety and healing for the community.

In the first steps of the recovery phase, the business sector holds arts and culture as THE sectors, providing the impetus for a return of tourism dollars, business development, and city growth. This interview solidifies the focus of the business community’s relationship with the arts sector implemented through the events surrounding COVID-19. Important to the future success of this business/art relationship beyond the crisis will be an ongoing conversation to bridge industry language differences, match strategies and goals, and intertwine priorities that will lead to an inclusive, satisfactory return on investment. The Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge responds to this call with a resounding “yes, and …”  knowing that such strong coordinated action will yield an economically stronger and more appealing region.

What’s the value of the arts that you see for your business members? What’s the alignment for the Chamber’s goals?

Across America, the notion of economic development is always changing and adapting. Since conversations about the creative class began years ago, the role of the arts, creative communities, and places has informed organizations like the Baton Rouge Area Chamber. Before the pandemic, we were involved in an economic development landscape where business investment and expansion decisions were increasingly driven by access to talent. Talented individuals have recognized that they are more mobile than ever. They can choose where to live and for whom they want to work. As a result, the Baton Rouge Area Chamber wants to see a community and a metropolitan region as both unique and livable. They should be developed at a human scale in terms of walkability, smart growth, and being culturally distinct. The arts are critical to developing the creative potential of individuals in all fields of work and play, as well as making our region’s cultural economy richer and more distinct.

In a time of crisis, why did you as a chamber leader turn to the arts?

Honestly, it was a spontaneous, gut reaction driven by our relationship to the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge. In general, the arts community responds enthusiastically to challenges by demonstrating flexibility, creativity, agility, and a bias towards action. These are the strengths also exhibited by companies who are pivoting their business models to meet the needs of “the war effort.” The partnership also was bred from a specific request from one of our hospitals. They desperately needed a significant volume of nurse surgical gowns. We lack a large textile company, but have a large community of artisans, makers, and craft sewers. When we called the Arts Council, the response was not “Hmm” or “We can’t right now because of the crisis,” but “HELL YES! WE HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR YOUR CALL!” That sums it up.

How do you see incorporating the arts as a vital component to recovery and reimagination of community building?

We need to be more intentional about it. Like many businesses and economic development organizations, we write multi-year plans for what we want to accomplish in the future. We are in the midst of designing and planning our next five-year regional strategy and see the arts as being a component of that plan. What could that look like? As we think about quality of place strategies, I think it’s hugely important to have the arts be accessible and visible in the built environment. This includes having a strong and well supported music and performing arts scene, and incorporating greater levels of arts education into K-12 and 2-year education. It’s also interesting to think about the craft skills that we needed locally throughout this crisis, like sewers, that perhaps need more educational and practical training made available post COVID-19.

What would other chambers of commerce miss if they didn’t integrate the arts into the recovery efforts of their business communities?

I think many of our peer business groups are already integrating the arts into their overall efforts. But those who aren’t doing so are missing out on the rich, purposeful connections that exist in the arts community. Arts community social networks perhaps don’t intersect with the social networks of the business community as often as they should. The arts community gave us access to talented people from arts, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds that were able to contribute to our pandemic response when no one else had the skills and resources to do so. It was also important that we weren’t only asking them to volunteer (although some chose to). These artisans and arts nonprofits were able to earn money during this financially straining time.

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