About nine months ago, I read a particularly pleasing white paper, “Creative Placemaking,” which reminded me that cultural diplomacy is well and alive in cities across the United States.
In creative placemaking, partners from public, private, non-profit, and community sectors strategically shape the physical and social character of a neighborhood, town, city or region around arts and cultural activities. Creative placemaking animates public and private spaces, rejuvenates structures and streetscapes, improves local business viability and public safety, and brings diverse people together to celebrate, inspire, and be inspired. (Markusen & Nicodemus, 2010, p. 3)
This stands as a reminder that cultural diplomacy does not have to be exported to an international audience for culture to be appreciated. The mere manifestation of individuals and communities embracing their own culture and expressing benign nationalism can also draw in an international audience. “One must first start at home, finding compelling art, people and ideas that will make others want to pay attention and take notice. There is no bigger endorsement than the spirit of benign nationalism” (Anholt, 2007, p. 26).
This year, Syracuse’s CRAVE Arts Immersion Festival that premiered this past weekend, aimed to do just that. “It was an innovative arts festival designed to immerse Syracuse in a wide variety of visual and performing arts Sept. 20-21,” (www.cravefest.org). CRAVE creator, CNY Jazz Executive Director Larry Luttinger, wanted this festival to serve as a platform for how the arts and cultural activity can stimulate Syracuse’s local economy and sustain its neighborhoods. More importantly, he wanted to tap into Syracuse’s creative energy to connect people, business and educational as well cultural institutions to stimulate new economic activity.
Ingeniously, Luttinger’s idea not only drew the attention of Syracuse city leaders, but also art leaders. What started out as one singular idea, from one individual, developed into a public-private partnership among the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA), Central New York Jazz Arts Foundation (CNY Jazz), the Connective Corridor, a program of Syracuse University’s Office of Community Engagement and Economic Development, SU’s Arts Engage, the Syracuse Convention & Visitors Bureau and IDEAS (Collaborative of the Gifford Foundation, Allyn Foundation, Central New York Community Foundation, Dorothy and Marshall M. Reisman Foundation, John Ben Snow Foundation and the Trust for Cultural Resources).
What does this all mean, though? The arts mean business. According to the Arts & Economic Prosperity IV Summary Report (2010), cultural organizations are entrepreneurial businesses that employ people locally, market and promote regions and more importantly secure jobs that cannot be shipped overseas. What CRAVE and countless other creative placemaking initiatives may be starting to prove is that there doesn’t need to be a choice between arts funding and economic prosperity. Both can coexist. According to the report, “attendance at arts events generates income for local businesses – restaurants, parking garages, hotels and retail stores,” (p.3). Even more interesting, on a national level, the data collected for the report shows that nonlocal attendees spend twice as much as local attendees at art events ($39.96 vs. $17.42). This means that creative placemaking not only has the potential to attract cultural tourists but also produce economic rewards.
So how exactly is a dollar represented in a community shaped around arts and cultural activities?
A theater company purchases a gallon of paint from the local hardware store for $20, generating the direct economic impact of the expenditure. The hardware store then uses a portion of the aforementioned $20 to pay the sales clerk’s salary; the sales clerk re-spends some of the money for groceries; the grocery store uses some of the money to pay its cashier; the cashier then spends some for the utility bill; and so on. The subsequent rounds of spending are the indirect economic impacts. (Arts & Economic Prosperity IV Summary Report, 2010, p. 7).
When the impact of art is presented in this way, it’s no wonder why the Aspen Institute, hosted an Aspen Creative Placemaking Roundtable two weeks ago and why six Minneapolis mayoral candidates debated about creative placemaking and the arts last week. City leaders are beginning to see that arts are a central part of community life, quite literally. As the example illustrates above, it’s more than an attendance at the museum, symphony or a play. There are direct economic impacts of expenditure that create value in the community.
When our goal in cultural diplomacy is to do business with people who believe why we do what we do, we have to remember that in the end, how we see the world defines how we define our options.