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Arts & Culture Drive Financial Rejuvenation

08 April 2024

When communities look to revitalize, they often tend to overlook one of the most effective and efficient tools in their revitalization or rejuvenation toolbox, that of the arts and culture.


To be fair, the term “Arts and Culture” takes on many meanings. Some of those might be the traditional painting, murals, sculptures, statues and so forth.  But let’s not limit ourselves, they can also include, theater, music, dance, fountains, exercise forms and even food. When a community is seeking to carve out their own identity or uniqueness, there is no better way to do that than through their own twist and focus on the arts.


One might go as 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 about the heart and soul of a community, what a better way to add the vibrancy that brings the heart and soul than through adding the arts and culture component 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 must 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 the 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 had slowed events down, they returned in full force.  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 financial picture.


Here are but a few examples of indirect value. When you have an art show, concert, or other art related function that may only break-even or even lose a few dollars on the surface, what is the actual real value to the community. The real value is the tens of thousands of dollars changing hands in the support of local artists. If a concert breaks even, what is the value of visitors and tourists that attended that event and stayed over-night, bought food, bought, souvenirs, and other shopping expenditures?  If you create an art 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 a very important piece of the puzzle; that of the creativity and uniqueness aspect that arts and culture bring to your community.


It is that creativity, uniqueness, passion, and culture that ultimately bring the heart and soul to the community. Sure, you can attempt to do that through unique retail and dining experiences and those are very important as well.  But ultimately, to achieve the 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 must be willing to evaluate the merits of intangible benefits and create an equation factoring those in.  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 that communities are faced with. There are many intangible assets, use them to your advantage and your community will benefit.


John Newby is a nationally recognized Columnist, Speaker, & Publisher. He consults with Chambers, Communities, Business & Media. His “Building Main Street, not Wall Street,” column appears in 60+ newspapers and media outlets. As founder of Truly-Local, he assists chambers, communities, media, and businesses in creating synergies that build vibrant communities. He can be reached at: John@Truly-Local.org.