The importance of the arts

Posted on August 25, 2011 by Randy Maiers

There is no single solution to improving our local economy.  Certainly, the overall goal is to bring more well paying jobs to the region.  Yet achieving that goal requires the partners of the BlueMeetsGreen plan to address multiple areas that as a whole, make up our quality of life, and make our region an attractive option for employers. 
Over the last few years we have reached a consensus that our overall economic plan for revival must have strategies that address education, workforce training, our natural assets, tourism, our unique downtowns, special events and the arts.  However, actually putting these diverse elements into a cohesive plan and then generating support for them is quite a challenge. 
When it comes to the arts especially, generating sufficient support as an economic strategy is difficult.  Yet even in these difficult times successful communities are finding ways to maintain a focus on the arts.  Next month the Art Prize will take place again in Grand Rapids.  Over a two-week period the city will fill with more than 200,000 tourists and visitors and generate an estimated $7 million + in economic growth.  Who knows how much economic spin-off will be gained from visitors who down the road decide to visit again, purchase a vacation home, re-locate their business or start a new business in the Grand Rapids area.
Here in the Blue Water Region we have some great examples of how the arts play a role in our overall economic plan.  Just a few miles north the Lexington Arts Council and other partners have made the Lexington well known for its live theater, the Bach Festival and the Lexington Art Festival.
St. Clair has carefully crafted its image around a high quality of life colored by a heavy emphasis in the arts.  Beautiful permanent sculptures dot the landscape along Palmer Park.  The St. Clair Art Fair just held its 39th annual event.  During the summer there are Friday Night Concerts on the water and coming up is “Will on the Water.” 
This October Studio 1219 in Port Huron will celebrate its 6th Anniversary.  It’s the closest thing Port Huron has to an art center and hub for the arts.  Like the collaboration taking place today with the BlueMeetsGreen plan, Studio 1219 (www.studio1219.com) only came into existence because of the collaboration and shared vision of the Acheson Foundation, Community Foundation, Port Huron Downtown Development Authority and Michigan’s Cool Cities Initiative.  But these are challenging economic times and the impact of Studio 1219, like any business, is limited by its economic health. 
Over the last few years Port Huron has seen the development of the Blue Water Sculpture Exhibit, Rockin the Rivers concert series every Thursday evening in August, and this October the Blue Water Film Festival will return.  These new programs have added a much needed boost to the arts.
Even with our region, state and country facing continued economic struggles, we can’t forget about the arts and the role they play in our quality of life.  In fact we need to invest more in the arts.  Over the last several years there has been talk of a modest outdoor amphitheater either on the north-end of Desmond Landing or at Kiefer Park. 
The front of McMorran with the restored fountain just begs to be more fully developed as a gathering spot for smaller special events.  Imagine if the community college and city could agree on the plans to green up McMorran Boulevard and create a more pedestrian friendly interface between the front door to the college and McMorran.    Arts and culture deserve a place on our economic agenda.  They deserve more financial support from all stakeholders.

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