I’m a fortunate community arts executive. I direct an organization, the Cultural Alliance of Greater Birmingham, which supports a vibrant ecosystem in the largest city, and cultural capital, of Alabama. Just a few years ago, in a public gathering, our former governor recognized Birmingham’s cultural sector as the region’s second greatest asset, just behind the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the state’s largest employer with a giant, nationally-recognized network of hospital and healthcare resources.
Birmingham lost one nonprofit contemporary art gallery in the recession; however, I am proud to say most of our organizations are being extremely resourceful at doing more with less. As nonprofits, we’re used to it, right?
And I’ve just received great news: the results of our local Arts and Economic Prosperity IV study show a more than 50 percent increase in annual economic impact from the data collected five years ago. We had an 80 percent survey-return rate from our organizations as compared with the national average of 43 percent. So, our cultural leaders are enthusiastic, capable, and determined to demonstrate our value.
We also have some important and encouraging signs as we move forward. The City of Birmingham is in the process of creating its first comprehensive plan in 50 years, and arts and entertainment tactics have been included in the area of "Prosperity and Opportunity" as well as "Housing, Neighborhoods, and Community Renewal."
Perhaps even more significant, "Blueprint Birmingham," a recently published economic-growth-strategy document commissioned by the Birmingham Business Alliance, our regional economic development authority, identifies "Arts, Entertainment, and Tourism" as one of only seven target sectors with the greatest potential for new job creation, retention of existing jobs, and overall wealth creation in the region. This recognition of the cultural sector as an engine for both community and economic development, when coming from unusual suspects, is a sure sign of progress.