Why art is vital to the Rhinelander community
In August I relocated my family from the Twin Cities to Rhinelander to assume the Development Director position at ArtStart Rhinelander.
With family in and around Tomahawk I had been watching the development of ArtStart from afar, excited by what an arts & cultural center could offer to the area.
Working in the arts in the Twin Cities, I became very familiar with the recent movement towards integrating art into economic development and community building efforts. There are many buzzwords and catchphrases associated with this movement like “placemaking”, “creative economies” and most recently the “creative industries”. But what does all this mean for Rhinelander?
While these academic-sounding terms can sound a bit lofty, they are really practical applications for creating amazing stories of community involvement, neighborhood revitalization and solutions to everyday civic challenges. For example, the city of St. Paul hired an artist in residence, Marcus Young to work with city planners on making the city more inviting and inspiring to residents and visitors. One of the artist’s projects was the creation of a city poetry sidewalk program. Residents submitted their work in a poetry competition and the winners had their poems imprinted into new sections of sidewalk. Slowly the city is turning into a living poetry collection that empowers not just those who submit poems but those who walk over them day after day pondering their meaning. The artist works side by side with the public works department and city officials and planners. Together they think more creatively about what is possible for their city.
In another inspiring example, New Orleans-based artist Candy Chang creates work that invites neighborhood residents to share ideas, hopes and dreams on chalkboard installations that display fill-in-the-blank questions such as “Before I die I want to…” While it initially seemed like a small site-specific work, Chang has recreated the project in 500 different places ranging from small towns to large cities in over 70 countries and in 35 languages. It’s amazing and encouraging that one art project can resonate with such diverse audiences!
In addition to social interactions and community engagement, art can create tangible economic benefits by including “creative industries.”
Many of us are not aware of the critical role the arts play in our day to day lives. It’s not only the art centers, galleries, frame shops and art schools that contribute to tourism and local economies. It is also our children’s music and dance teachers, our architects, our designers (from products to our home decor), our community radio station, our high school bands and the musician we hear at the local tavern.
Creative industries have been defined in the United Kingdom as, “those industries which have their origin in individual creativity, skill and talent and which have a potential for wealth and job creation through the generation and exploitation of intellectual property.” The arts contribute to local economies not only through the creation of creative sector jobs, but by contributing to a cultural climate that encourages job retention in all fields.
One of the most direct economic benefits the arts provide to our local economy is the money spent by arts consumers. A 2011 national study shows that arts audiences in Marathon County, for example, spent approximately $23.59 per person on an arts outing in addition to money spent at the venue (tickets, entrance fees, etc). I saw evidence of this a few months ago when the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra was in town. The wait for a table at our local restaurants was unbelievably long for a Thursday night. It seemed everyone had the same idea, dinner out before the show.
So, does art contribute to a community? Absolutely! What does it contribute? Togetherness, a sense of place, a sense of ownership, opportunities for dialog and/or contemplation and support for our local economy; all of which create a more robust and inspired Rhinelander.
This list of benefits could go on and on depending on the type of art, the activity and the venue. But the most important benefit is that art brings both beauty and the opportunity for critical thinking into our everyday lives. See you at the next concert or gallery opening!
The Star Journal will be publishing a series of columns from the staff at ArtStart. Development Director Melinda Childs begins the series with a look at what art can do for a community.