Art Town: Measuring the value of the arts with dollars and sense.

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In 2014 the City of Edmonds created a cultural plan. I spent a good part of an evening recently reviewing the 90 pages of charts and bulleted items. It is an amazing document in its scope and ambitious ideas for our town. Being interested in both the arts and the local business community, I love the idea of Edmonds branding itself as an “art town.” But these two entities, business and art: Do they go hand in hand? What will it take to start investing public dollars to fund some of the goals of the cultural plan? The answer may be coming in February.

Most of the people I know are artists. Admittedly my perspective is from within the bubble of people who care deeply about this issue. The person we need to win over is the non-artist Joe on the street who doesn’t feel a city budget should include hard-earned tax dollars on artsy stuff. The recent coverage of our own city council proves that budget issues are always a challenge. We prioritize knowing there will never be enough tax dollars to please all special interest groups, when potholes and safety issues vie for those same dollars. One thing everyone seems to agree on is that everything is more important than art.

Spending money on art is a tough sell. The arts suffer in most budget decisions. This is especially clear when you look at school budgets. Art has been trimmed so extensively that most children do not have much exposure to it at all. In fact, there are currently no art teachers in any of the Edmonds School District elementary schools.

At this point, the U.S. is probably composed of several generations of folks who have gone through the public school system and who do not have a working knowledge of art concepts, architecture or art history. They have not discussed or experienced how the process of making art develops creative thinking. The aesthetics of our culture is carried on by the very few people who managed to seek out alternative means to become artists. Much of our local art activity is supported through private fundraising and volunteer time. Art is not much of a government sanctioned thing in our country.

I firmly believe that people will always be attracted to beauty, great design, inspired performances, and charming streetscapes even if they feel uncomfortable thinking or talking about art. That average Joe we are imagining might be surprised at how much the arts affect quality of life, and yes, even commerce. The trick is to get folks on board with investing a small amount of our combined taxes on the arts.

So this is the challenge… How do you create a viable, thriving cityscape that is rich in the arts if there is no budget and little public support to actually invest tax dollars to create it? Some advocates in our local government have stepped forward to answer that question.

The Edmonds Arts Commission’s Frances White Chapin, who is our Arts and Culture Manager, and Patrick Doherty, City of Edmonds Director of Economic Development and Community Services, are putting together a way to measure economic impact of the arts in Edmonds. About a year ago, they launched a new study to collect data. The idea is that proof of positive economic outcome from art related activities benefit us in a way anyone can appreciate – the bottom line.

Frances Chapin has every expectation that the study will prove out the worth of investing in actual infrastructure for the arts, saying, “We talk about how we are an art community, but we need to back it up with data.”  She wants to give the city council the means to justify investment in the arts as laid out in the cultural plan.

This new study was indicated as a goal in the 90-page 2014 study I mentioned above. It will be released to the public upon its completion in February 2018. Let’s see if it backs up the idea that our real estate, rental property values, quality of life, and tax base are all enhanced financially by the arts in our town. It will be interesting to see how the study categorizes what exactly is included as art infrastructure and assigning values to those.

In the meantime, take some time to look over the City of Edmonds Cultural Plan. That way you will be ready for the Economic study coming out in February. I look forward to your comments and feedback on what the arts mean to you, and what value you place on them.

— By Tracy Kay Felix

Tracy Felix is currently the President of the Downtown Edmonds Merchant Association, and Co-Owner of ARTspot.

1 COMMENT

  1. Tracy —

    Great piece and helpful spotlighting of a key community issue and opportunity. One option for opening the door to awareness and greater engagement in and value of the arts mighto be through children and young people. Each year at the Festival,the Arts Festival Foundation has a remarkable secti from young, aspiring artiists in the schools. Both Cascadia and ECA have initiatives which is a reminder that the real vision might best be Edmonds as a remarkable Arts town not just an Art town. It may be that Edmonds art gallaries, the Cascadia NW Art Museum, ECA and other entities such as Cascade Symphony, Driftwood and other theatres, our dance studios, the City and the wider business community the merchants could collaborate on a coordinated Arts education and participation strategy that would serve with the always financially-strained schools leadership. And, through the next and emerging generation engage the students, their parents, and position demonstrate that the city as not only committed to the Arts but is prepared to be fundamentally innovative demonstraing that.

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