Five Questions

By Susan Burns November 30, 2009

SMART GROWTH/DUMB GROWTH: Leveraging Our Creative Capital


The good news: Sarasota and Bradenton both made the fifth edition of John Villani’s The 100 Best Art Towns in America: A Guide to Galleries, Museums, Festivals, Lodging and Dining. The not-so-good news: 98 other towns out there are marketing their arts and culture to attract the artsy, affluent tourists and residents everyone wants. We talked to Villani about our success as an arts destination.

How competitive is it to market a region as an arts capital?

Who are we competing with?

You mentioned government support. Is it essential to access public dollars?

What types of initiatives are working?

Does that mean our region’s reliance on wealthy arts patrons is risky?

But the arts have to redefine themselves as direct economic drivers of development and transition away from the black-tie and cocktail set and go into street-level approach of creating consciousness and pride. It’s great that the parties present opportunities for people to get dressed up and celebrate, but you have to have relevancy to the lives of the people in the community. That may be one way to make the transition away from benefactorship. Make the arts a vehicle of economic diversification. –Susan Burns

(You’re invited to attend our free Smart Growth/Dumb Growth panel discussion, "Leveraging Our Cultural Capital," 4-5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 8, at Selby Auditorium on the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus. Panelists include University of Michigan economist Donald Grimes, Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau president Virginia Haley, Realize Bradenton executive director Johnette Isham and Ringling College of Art and Design president Larry Thompson. See our December Planner, page 10, for RSVP information.)

Sarasota is different. Many of these communities I mentioned don’t have the tradition of large benefactors and supporters spending at a high dollar level that you have in Sarasota. You have a lot in common with Santa Barbara. You have a gilded legacy of arts traditions that have resulted in an important infrastructure, a wonderful inventory of venues that allows arts organizations to flourish. That’s a tremendously important legacy. Art space projects such as converting warehouses into housing and creativity incubators. Minneapolis has been quite successful. Greenville, S.C., has done a very aggressive promotion as an arts community from public and private sources. In New Mexico there is a very aggressive, forward-thinking approach in investing in all levels of the arts and arts economy, and yet it’s a very large state with a low-per capita income. Yes, the spending and investment are coming from public coffers. The arts community needs to figure ways to marshal as a unified front [in front of] government in order to achieve the transition from private benefactors to public support. Hedge fund managers have dropped to the wayside. They’re not coming back. It’s time to shift gears and be aware that there is safety and sanity in numbers. Charleston, S.C., La Jolla, Calif., Scottsdale, Ariz., Santa Fe—you name it. You have to match up to peer communities that are benefactors of the arts.As more communities become more aware of the arts to expand the economy, the competition for arts tourism spending and for developing reputations as arts centers becomes much more intense. In Santa Fe, N.M., where I live, the state and local governments are very aware of how the arts drive not only tourism spending but also make the state a much more engaging place to live. The lifestyle of this state and the region is wrapped around access to the arts. We’d hate to see Utah and Texas do the same things we’re doing. It’s a very competitive marketplace.

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