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Economic Growth driven by Arts and Cultural Engagement

What are the building blocks of a great community? The quick answer might be money, political will or progressive leadership. Certainly these elements are important. But in most cases, real community boils down to trust, connections and relationships.

The arts and culture environment in a community can be a driving force in establishing and cultivating these connections. Communities that invest in a flourishing arts and culture scene are the communities that thrive across demographic and geographic lines in good times and in challenging times. These connections build the social capital necessary to create the community engagement that drives economic growth.

Just as a business needs an ongoing investment of financial capital to be successful and grow, a community needs an ongoing investment of social capital to be successful and grow. This social capital results from the connections, relationships and trust built across all sectors of the community.

Community development expert Peter Kageyama, author of “For the Love of Cities: The Love Affair Between People and Their Places,” recently spoke about the power of social capital and connections at a statewide Municipal Association of South Carolina conference. He expanded this idea of investing in social capital as a way to build community and spur economic growth. Kageyama pointed to investing in things like beauty, art and great design as a way to build social capital.

There is a “strong correlation between peoples’ emotional attachment to the communities they live in, and higher levels of local GDP,” Kageyama writes. His book focuses on how places flourish when they are loved by the people who live there. However, he notes this key idea is often missing in planning and budgeting processes. A community’s “emotional infrastructure” like cultural events, beautification programs and interactive public art are just as important as sidewalks, sewer pipes and traffic lights.

Kageyama adds that people often point to “a comfortable place to people watch, a favorite street corner, a local dog park, a street festival or outdoor movies in the park” as things they love about where they live. This investment in emotional infrastructure can’t be overlooked because it creates attachment, satisfaction and belonging among people. These characteristics lead to social capital that encourages economic growth.

We see this idea in action all over the Midlands – the idea of consciously making the investment of social capital through arts and culture to make our community a unique and welcoming place where people want to live and businesses want to locate.

A 2011 American Planning Association report entitled “Economic Vitality: How the Arts and Culture Sector Catalyzes Economic Vitality” outlines key points that help build social capital and encourage economic and community development through the arts and culture. The Midlands area is clearly on the right track based on these findings.

Keypoint #1
Economic development is enhanced by concentrating creativity through both physical density and human capital. By locating firms, artists and cultural facilities together, a multiplier effect can result.

Columbia’s downtown is increasingly becoming a mecca for creativity. First Thursday, the Soda City Market, the Nickelodeon, the Columbia Museum of Art and Tapp’s Art Center are just a few examples of how the arts and culture in many forms can bring diverse people together to share common interests. Columbia’s Main Street also houses the headquarters of the SC Chapter of the American Institute of Architect.

Add to these cultural spaces increased housing and commercial activity in Columbia’s downtown, and you’ve got a formula for success. These encourage a cause and effect cycle where a strong arts presence draws businesses and people while a concentration of businesses and people will support an arts presence.

Keypoint #2
The recognition of a community’s arts and culture assets (and the marketing of them) is an important element of economic development. Creatively acknowledging and marketing community assets can attract a strong workforce and successful firms, as well as help sustain a positive quality of life.

The Midlands area is full of creative and collaborative examples of marketing community arts and cultural assets. While the Vista has long been considered an arts district, the area was recently declared an official “cultural district” by the South Carolina Arts Commission. This title gives the area increased visibility as a center of cultural, artistic and economic activity. The West Columbia and Cayce joint efforts to market the Riverwalk has been part of the catalyst for residential and business growth in nearby areas.

West Columbia’s Meeting Street corridor is transforming itself into a cluster of diverse retail, commercial, arts and food venues. One Columbia is promoting the city’s arts, culture and historic treasures.

A new cultural asset taking hold in the Midlands is the beer industry fostered by the craft beer movement. The Midlands isn’t being left behind in following this trend to market local breweries and brew pubs as a destination and cultural attraction.

Keypoint #3
Arts and cultural activities can draw crowds from within and around the community. Increasing the number of visitors as well as enhancing resident participation helps build economic and social capital.

It’s a given these days that Midlands arts and cultural events and venues are attracting an increasing number of residents and visitors alike.

Events as diverse as Artista Vista, Cayce Festival of the Arts, Girls Rock Music Camp, Blowfish and Firefly baseball, lake activities, local theater productions and Colonial Center concerts are only a small sample of diverse arts events drawing locals and tourists each year.

The Midlands social capital bank account is growing…thanks in large part to a strong belief in arts and culture as a path to economic growth for the entire community.

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