When communities look to revitalize downtowns, they tend to overlook one of the most effective and efficient tools in their revitalization toolbox: arts and culture.
Now, to be fair, the term “arts and culture” takes on many meanings. Some might be the traditional painting, murals, sculptures, statues and so forth. But let’s not limit ourselves. This also can include, theater, music, dance, fountains, exercise forms and food. When a community seeks to carve out its own identity, there is no better way to do that than through its own twist on the arts.
One might go so far as to say that nearly every successful revitalization effort across the country incorporated one or several projects centered around the arts. When one thinks about it, the arts are a creative function, and creativity is a necessary element in reinventing your community. We write often of the heart and soul of a community, and what better way to add the vibrancy that brings out the heart and soul than through adding the arts and culture to your community.
Full disclosure: I am not what I would consider an artist; I am simply a numbers guy. For me to see any benefit, I have to see the numbers associated with a given project and then evaluate if those numbers do indeed present a compelling story. For years, I was an art skeptic, as I couldn’t see how the numbers would add up. But my numbers mentality led me into a trap as I was not taking into consideration or quantifying the intangible benefits of the arts.
While COVID-19 has slowed down events, they will return. One need look no further than a successful concert, a successful art show, a successful play or theater event, a successful food, dance or music festival to begin to piece together a financial picture worth a thousand words. When one factors in the indirect or intangible value to the community derived from those events, one can then begin to better understand or quantify numbers that paint a far different picture.
Here are but a few examples of indirect value:
• When you have an art show that may only break even or even lose a few dollars on the surface, what is the value to the community of tens of thousands dollars changing hands in support of local artists?
• If a concert breaks even, what is the value of visitors and tourists who attended that event and stayed overnight, bought food and maybe even shopped?
• If you create an arts district, what is the value of the repeated visits by out-of-town visitors to your city?
While those are all somewhat quantifiable, we are still missing an important piece of the puzzle: the creativity and uniqueness aspect that arts and culture bring to your community.
To achieve maximum success, it is the combining of retail and dining experiences with the various components of art and culture that make sense for your community. The combination of those will propel your community to its ultimate level of achievement. One without the other will always leave you short of your potential.
I am still a numbers guy; that hasn’t changed. What has changed is that I now am willing to evaluate the merits of intangible benefits and create an equation in which those are considered. That would be my challenge as well to the arts and culture community. When building your case, build it on the strength of the numbers, not the strength of hope. Hope makes for a very poor business strategy, and relying on hope will only bring despair in today’s economic realities.
There are many intangible assets. Use them to your advantage, and your community will benefit.
John Newby is author of the “Building Main Street, Not Wall Street” column dedicated to helping communities combine synergies with local media companies allowing them to not just survive but to thrive. His email is john@360MediaAlliance.net.