By: Tracy Zollinger Turner
Columbus has been lighting up one viral list after another in social media feeds for the past couple of years. For two years in a row, we have been named one of the top seven “Intelligent cities” in the world by the Intelligent Community Forum think tank. We’re a top five “secret foodie city” according to Forbes’ Travel blog and top three for Fashion Design behind New York and Los Angeles in a national ranking by Fashion Up. The Short North is routinely written about by national publications as a destination attraction. Yahoo Finance calls us a top 10 “new opportunity city” while Business Week ranks us the ninth best place in the nation for new college graduates. Other publications tout us as among the top places to be young, broke and single or young and in love, and that is true whether we are gay or straight.
Past decades of civic hand-wringing over what real or imagined cultural identity to project about Columbus have given way to a city that’s coming into its own. Through thoughtful urban planning, ample creative energy and hard work it has evolved into someplace unique, imbued with attractive features that people all over the globe are pausing to look at.
“I think that Columbus has really changed in the last four or five years,” says Bill Conner, President and CEO of CAPA. “There is now a common understanding that in order to attract and retain the highest quality people in terms of the workforce – and attract and retain the highest quality of our college graduates – urbanization and quality of life are very important components of places people want to live in. If you look at the urban centers across America that are thriving, people are making decisions to live in them based on quality of life and not on income.”
THE ARTS MEAN BUSINESS
One national study after another, such as Gallup’s Three-Year Study of 26 U.S. Cities, November 2010, has revealed that any growing city’s arts and cultural environment is the fulcrum of the emotional connection of its citizens.
“We have an eclectic population. We market ourselves as a smart and open city,” says Alex Fischer, President and CEO of The Columbus Partnership, which probed the sustainability of the arts market in a 2011 report with the Columbus Foundation. “The arts and cultural scenes intersect with our university population, the younger population, and they are also tied to industries and companies that rely on the creative class to succeed.”
All of Columbus’ industries, whether they be insurance, banking, manufacturing or retail, says Fischer, are “a hotbed research and development” that rely on inventive energy that’s fed both within and outside of the workplace.
“Vibrant cultural communities are the ones growing a culture of innovation,” he says. “The dialogue about this in the business community is alive and healthy. I don’t think the importance of the growth of the city’s arts and culture is a debate in anybody’s mind anymore. It’s now the norm. It’s understood, which is not how it’s always been.”
The economic return on investment in the arts to the Columbus economy is extensive. For every dollar that the Greater Columbus Arts Council distributed in fiscal year 2012, more than $29 was pumped back through the local economy (see graphic). Overall, there was $226 million generated by non-profit arts and culture, according to Americans for the Arts, Arts and Economic Prosperity Study IV. Through a reformulated bed tax and growth in bed tax receipts, the Arts Council’s community funding grew nearly 25% in 2013 (over 2012). A record-setting Columbus Arts Festival and new programming and grant opportunities helped further broaden access to the arts throughout Columbus. And yet, benchmarked against competing cities throughout the U.S., like Pittsburgh, Louisville, Milwaukee, Charlotte or our ever-compared southern counterpart of Austin, Texas, Columbus is spending less on the arts “by some magnitude,” says Tom Katzenmeyer, President and CEO of the Arts Council. This creates a less than ideal environment for attracting and retaining a talented workforce, new business and conventions.
“There is good news right now. The cultural organizations are doing well,” he says. “Between 2009 and 2012, there was an 18.7 percent increase in attendance and an 18 percent increase in total earned income. Attendance is up, earned revenue is up, expenses are relatively flat – the cultural sector of Columbus has become a very good business story.”
A CRITICAL MOMENT
But we are at a crossroads. To continue and expand its economic growth, how will Columbus compete on a national scale for more creative industry, more conventions, and more tourism? How will it keep growing in its appeal to artists and critical/creative thinkers, support an increasingly better quality of life, continue to aid in the economic development of various neighborhoods through the arts and promote greater awareness in the city of what the arts have to offer?
“GCAC came into being to facilitate general operating support,” says CAPA’s Conner. “And the funds that are generated through the hotel/motel tax are distributed by GCAC in a really fair and equitable format. There are a lot of people who want to give you money for new programming, but very few that want to help you wake up every morning and keep the place going, keep the lights on. That’s invaluable.”
“But we’re just coming out of an eight-year recession, so the major institutions have been starved and we now need new sources of funds. We’ve done a really good job with limited resources. We’ve been very good team players with the city, county and business community. The report that the Columbus Foundation and Columbus Partnership did really demonstrates that Columbus is one of the most underfunded major metropolitan areas. Those dollars could have a game-changing significance to our arts community.”
And beyond our major non-profit institutions, how do we now continue to nourish and grow a rich “ecosystem” of Columbus, as Conner calls it, of art and culture that are vital to the city’s continued evolution? In 2012, the Arts Council funded 66 arts and culture organizations that supported a workforce of 2,666 artists, 5,458 jobs and 7,082 volunteers and these organizations served 369,170 school children. Neighborhoods like Franklinton, King-Lincoln and Weinland Park are all clearly benefiting from the presence of small organizations, where “art can be the spark, the catalyst for growth,” say Katzenmeyer.
“With more money, we can obviously continue to invest,” he says. “There are currently major capital needs, major deferred maintenance needs. We could do more on the entrepreneurial side with opportunities to invest in film or international programming. We’re currently losing out on the new ideas and new programming happening in other cities.”
CREATING A CULTURE OF INNOVATION
There is also the matter of getting more money directly into the hands of artists for supplies, professional development opportunities and chances for greater international exposure that the Arts Council is committed to, all of which bring attention and energy back to Columbus. Artists create a culture of innovation that weaves itself into the fabric of a community.
When Stephanie Rond left her job as a library assistant to pursue the arts as her full-time career eight years ago, classes offered by the Arts Council helped her learn practical things, like how to work with galleries and write press releases. A proven stalwart of local arts as both a street artist and gallery curator, Rond has earned several more opportunities from the Arts Council since that have helped her both make a living as a creator of her own work and visionary in helping create new vibrant spaces for other local artists.
When given an opportunity to install the Community Arts Partnership artist selection exhibition at Ray’s Living Room, it led to a much larger opportunity for Rond, who has continued to privately curate shows in the space, featuring dozens of other local artists. She also curates the Carnegie Gallery at the Columbus Metropolitan Library’s Main branch, as well as a group of dollhouse-sized galleries that challenge local artists to scale down their work.
The Arts Council recently granted funds for Rond, along with artist/filmmakers Dan Gerdeman, Andrew Ina and Corey Aumiller to finish the “big finale – basically the car chase” of a documentary called “Tiny Out Loud” about dollhouse galleries and street art that is “basically challenging notions about what we think about art,” says Rond.
Having been a regular recipient of Arts Council dollars and opportunities has helped Rond get her street art onto the sides of buildings all over town.
“When they can’t help me financially, they have still helped me figure out how to approach new opportunities professionally. And when I go out and do my own art, it’s sanctioned by the history of the work I have done with GCAC,” she says. “Everyplace I’ve approached has said yes.”
According to Rond, there are a lot of people who still believe that artists deserve less payment than other professions.
“They say ‘you’d be doing this anyway,’ even though you have to eat and live somewhere. But GCAC is a champion for us. They educate people about what we contribute to society.”
CONTINUED LEADERSHIP AND VISION
Arts organizations also ultimately benefit from that kind of leadership in marketing, advocacy and continued education about their promise as an experience for patrons, says Conner of CAPA. The Arts Council has a track record of doing that as well, having provided workshops and seminars on a variety of topics, including relating to the public through the world of viral and social media.
“The relevance of the digital world, of digital marketing – that’s another place where GCAC is very helpful,” he says, noting how much the landscape has changed in terms of who the authority is on what kind of programming is most challenging or innovative.
“The consumer tends to be ahead of me and everyone else,” he says. “I think that in today’s world, younger audiences go to what they want to see and they make a decision about whether it’s edgy or not edgy. I do think this concept of curating the arts is starting to become less relevant. The audience is critical to our community, to our ecology – we need more experiences, not less. We’re becoming much more flexible. When we look at audiences now, we don’t think of just one audience, we think of lots of different audiences.”
With greater understanding and dollars, Columbus’ arts organizations can be more flexible and responsive to the constantly changing landscape. Continued leadership and vision from the Arts Council will pave the way for both.
“The best thing we can do is to be the leading advocate in the region for arts and culture,” says Katzenmeyer. “We can be the convener around big issues like aging arts audiences. We can be the link between the arts and business community, as well as the arts to other non-profit communities.”
“We do have an incredible offering here. The arts are the reason people want to come here and people want to stay here. We’re able to recruit world-class talent here to our businesses and our colleges and universities. The offering is great, but there’s a lot more that we could do.”
Look for continued updates from the Greater Columbus Arts Council about what you can do to help maximize public investment in non-profit arts and culture in Columbus. For more information please go to gcac.org/impact-of-the-arts/ and gcac.org/impact-of-the-arts/why-the-arts-matter/.
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