There is no question that the “arts“ in the broadest sense are critical to the fabric of the community. At first blush, we think of the arts in relation to our own interests – in theater, music, museums, or more. Some of us are observers; others are personal participants by painting, playing an instrument for personal pleasure, or, even as professionals. Most of us probably are observers, as they are in my case. My wife and I enjoy going to Triad Stage, seeing plays and concerts at UNCG, taking in exhibits at GreenHill and Weatherspoon, and attending festivals such as the NC Folk Festival or Music in the Park. There is so much more than we can do ourselves. With the opening soon of the Tanger Center, there will be an even broader selection of activities.
Beyond our participation, most of us don’t often think about the role the arts play in the community’s economic health through direct employment and expenditures and indirectly through patron expenditures at restaurants, hotels, and other businesses. Studies have shown that the direct and indirect economic benefits of the arts run to the employment of hundreds of individuals and the generation of millions of dollars in economic activity. Coupled with sporting events and tournaments, arts and recreation are huge economic generators.
In my opinion, it is not often discussed that the arts are a major factor for companies and potential employees when considering locating to a community. “Livability“ is an issue that goes way beyond a job at a company. Factors like arts and culture, educational quality, and recreation are paramount for families thinking about moving to a community. And having these amenities for professionals and staff members is important when a company thinks about location. Does the community offer opportunities for cultural enrichment for families and children? Is the quality of life in a community rich enough that a company can attract executives and qualified professionals to relocate? Will the environment hold professionals once they move to the community?
In the early 2000s, as part of Action Greensboro, the economist Richard Florida came to visit and consult with us. His thesis was that young professionals choose the type of community — with the amenities they desire — as a place to live before getting jobs there. We also found through the McKinsey study that we didn‘t retain college graduates in the community. They move to “more exciting“ urban areas. Plus, we don‘t have enough entry–level baccalaureate positions available. But we see people returning some years later when they have small kids and want to find a great place to raise a family. They still want a vibrant cultural and artistic environment for themselves and their children.
The professionals working in the arts are also music and drama teachers for children. It is critical to have a broad array of “arts“ across the community so that individuals and families can “find themselves“ and commit to the local area.
That is why ArtsGreensboro is so important to Greensboro. It is the role of ArtsGreensboro to interpret the value and necessity of the “arts“ to the community at large and to decision–makers to protect, enhance, and nurture the arts culture locally. ArtsGreensboro frankly is the only organization that has this as a continuing and ongoing function.
Over the years, ArtsGreensboro has been a stimulus for the development of programs and projects. Early on, it owned the Carolina Theatre, which spun off into its own nonprofit. It took a lead role in fostering the NC Folk Festival’s growth after attracting and operating the National Folk Festival for three years. Now the NC Folk Festival has become a free–standing nonprofit. And it served as an initial fiscal home for Casa Azul as it developed. ArtsGreensboro took the lead in facilitating the Jan Van Dyke bequest that led to the Van Dyke Performance Space construction at the Cultural Arts Center.
Perhaps the most consistent and ongoing role of ArtsGreensboro is securing and distributing financial support across the arts. In recent months the Board has reaffirmed that this core role will have precedence over projects and programs going forward. Many think that the funds we raise only go to organizations like the Symphony, Triad Stage, Community Theatre, or Eastern Music Festival. While many ArtsGreensboro funds go to what we call “legacy partners,” most of them have grown and matured such that they also can raise funds on their own. Our support, though, helps basic overhead and gives running room for these groups to maintain.
But ArtsGreensboro plays a critical role in support for teacher grants in schools, individual artist grants, and grants to small nonprofits for projects. These broad grassroots grants provide foundational support. There is also an intentional focus on recognizing the broad landscape of peoples and groups in the community and supporting diversity. All the grants are administered through a strong and robust grant–making system overseen by a committee of board members and invited members — community members making support decisions for the community. This is a real strength.
Finally, during this shutdown period, ArtsGreensboro has been the leader in providing support to help arts organizations and individual artists survive the last many months. Special fundraising drives have been carried out using all of our staff and board contacts to build a support fund. This has been done with direct contributions to ArtsGreensboro and our administration of the CARES Act governmental relief funds on behalf of the State and County.
There is no other organization in the community with broad reach and flexibility supporting the arts continuingly. ArtsGreensboro doesn‘t have to gear up to focus here — it is ready on a daily basis.
And it is the basis of what “the arts are to me“ – an economic generator, a quality of life developer and assurer, and activities for personal growth and enjoyment for my family.