When the discussion turns to the topic of economic development, we quickly shift into thinking about traditional approaches – attracting new business, new factories or growing an existing industry. Seldom do we embrace the concept that the “cultural climate” of a community may not only be an element for improving the economy, but in some cases, it may be the key target. Communities that promote a high standard of living and economic health tend to include art as a major ingredient.
Art occurs in many forms – sculpture, painting, poetry, music and theater are just a few forms that appeal to our senses and provide added value to our lives. The challenge is for most of us to embrace art in our everyday lives instead of viewing it as an occasional treat or something extra.
To quote David Dahlquist (Des Moines Artist and Creative Director – RDG Planning and Design Art Studio) – “Art is a way of telling stories”. It creates images and ideas in our minds. Art entertains, challenges, encourages new ideas and perspectives, takes us to new places and may even offend our values. Or it may simply offer pleasant memories and moments of reflection and enjoyment.
It can be a challenge to bring or enhance the role of art for economic development This concept requires us to step out of our usual definition of economic development where art is often excluded. Bringing art into the mix requires a change in thinking. Change is not readily accepted by many of us. At one time in our history, art was a key element in the economic enhancement of a community. During the Renaissance, much of the settlement grew around great architecture and the masters of art.
Art in all its forms – from festivals, events, books, murals and dance must be considered in the assessment of the cultural climate for every community. Including the arts in planning will provide the dual benefits of economic and cultural vitality. Inclusion of art in a community communicates the community respect for the values that art provides of vitality, excitement, intelligence and creativity in creating a sense of place.
Not only should the private sector and government embrace and support art in buildings and grounds but they need to invest in art through tax incentives, direct investments, contributions and volunteerism.
It is like the proverbial “chicken or the egg” – which comes first? If government supports the arts, the private sector will soon follow or in some instances the reverse – private art investments can encourage government commitment to the arts. Whether looking at the chicken or the egg, involving youth in the arts provides a long term investment in the future of your neighborhood, community and countryside of Iowa.