Culture Rules

By Hannah Wallace February 29, 2008

While navigating among the some-25,000 people who attended Sarasota’s Arts Day on and around Main Street in January, something important about our market became dramatically obvious to me: The arts represent our jewel, our Unique Selling Proposition (USP), our most singular feature, distinguishing our two-county region from others. That distinction provides us with a significant advantage in attracting new residents. In spite of the minority perspective seemingly opposed to growth, most of us would like to not only see available housing purchased, but an increase in demand, necessitating reasonable future development, and ensuring a healthy local economy.

If attracting new residents is essential to achieving our economic well-being, how truly competitive are we relative to other Florida communities? While we proudly point to our beautiful beaches, other markets do the same, as they do about their golf courses, boating facilities, restaurants, shopping and kinder, gentler lifestyles. All subjective stuff. But our real ace-in-the-hole, the major point of difference we can discuss with compelling objectivity, is our commitment to the arts. An integral part of our landscape, the arts help define us, providing clarity in recognition when we are mentioned. To some, the arts are nice to have and to others they’re a necessity. Either way, they’re a factor in why many relocate here. The 2002 Performing Arts Research Coalition study commissioned by the Sarasota County Arts Council found that 43 percent of our residents said the performing arts played a part in their decision to move to Sarasota. That study also reported that 71 percent of residents in both counties went to a live, professional arts presentation in the past 12 months and 63 percent went to museums and art galleries.

The cultured sensibility inherent in an arts community is attractive to many who never go to a performance or a gallery. They simply like the idea of the arts, and the richness—literally and figuratively—they generate. A 2004 Sarasota County Arts Council impact study shows that Sarasota’s nonprofit arts industry generates nearly $123 million to local and state economies. So, aside from attracting future residents, the arts create a significant amount of current economic activity.

The bottom line is that we must continue to provide nourishment to our USP, the arts. Through attendance, sponsorship and donations we need to keep this jewel radiantly beautiful and highly attractive to prospective residents.

Supporting the arts is not just a nice thing to do; it’s good business. It’s essential to our growth.

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