TO ART OR NOT (Art as an Economic Engine)

Artists and art culture represent 4.5% of the GDP and 5.1 million jobs in the country. If you stretch the definition to include allied skills such as designers, architects, game makers, the economic contribution rise to over 10% of GDP.

It’s not surprising that communities are attracted to using arts as an economic engine and springboard to renewal. The reality though is, it doesn’t always work!


David Mildner discusses this in his study and article entitled “Lets Get Real About the Arts.”

The problem Mildner points out is that some communities trust into the arts by building theaters, performance halls and museums. These by nature are non profit and suffer overtime as cash drains. Worse, many people now consume art via online resources making it tough to attract people to these facilities.

Having said this, investments in the arts can be a winning strategy for renewal. Mildner and other experts like Katherine Mesik who wrote “How Art can Revitalize Neighborhoods” suggest the support for emerging artists and their needs pays bigger dividends than major projects. These artists might be described in a way as urban pioneers. By necessity, they seek the edges of the city that need redevelopment where costs are low and old buildings abound for studio use. A good building block for these artists is city support of affordable housing and work space. This is not only foundational for the artist, but has the added benefit of restoring neglected buildings. 

As emerging artists flourish in these areas, the public is attracted by the uniqueness and newness, away from the ditto strip malls of the suburbs. Artists cooperative galleries are formed, small cafes surface and retail follows. Ironically as success builds, many of these emerging artists are forced to move on to another fringe area of the city, restarting the renewal process all over.

Art can be a successful driver of renewal. Like a good painting it just takes time and careful brush strokes.