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March 30, 2014

Arts may boost business

Recently, while emptying some boxes of stuff that I had packed up from my former office on the U.S. Oval, I found copies of two periodicals, the Economic Development Journal from the winter of 2009 and a 2011 copy of Urban Land Institute’s Urban Land magazine. They both contained articles on the role arts and culture play in economic development.

They seemed timely because of the resurgence in interest in creating a vibrant cultural community in Plattsburgh.

The articles ask the question, is investing in the arts, as it relates to place-making and economic development, a good investment?

The Urban Land Institute’s David Malmuth thinks so. In the Urban Land magazine article, Malmuth wrote, “I make the case that a strategic investment in arts and culture initiatives, whether conceived by the public or private sectors, can have very significant impacts in economic vitality, jobs and revenues.”

It’s a change in thinking from traditional economic development, which usually focuses on export-based industries that bring new revenues into a community. While most of us can appreciate the intrinsic benefits of the arts, we don’t always view them as an economic driver. We tend to view the arts as an “amenity.”

Should we view them as an economically important industry sector?

Perhaps we should, given that a key component of many economically successful rural communities is the presence of a vibrant arts community. Around the country, rural communities are beginning to recognize that “the arts” (broadly defined) need to be part of any economic-development strategy.

The topic becomes more intriguing considering that the article in the Economic Development Journal made the case that innovation and creativity are becoming more important to regional economic development, so schools should be reintroducing arts education into their curriculum. My friend, Amanda, the neuroscientist, confirmed for me that there is a strong link between arts education and cognitive development, loosely defined as thinking, problem-solving, understanding concepts and processing information.

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