Is Providence’s Art Community Still Thriving?
Saturday, February 08, 2014
"The answer is unequivocally yes," said Deborah Johnson, Professor of Art History and Women's Studies at Providence College. "The better topic is to categorize Providence in the bigger context of Rhode Island."
Johnson and a political scientist colleague from Rhode Island College were commissioned by The College and University Research Collaborative to write a study on the economic impact of arts and culture. When you put an art historian and a political scientist on a case, you get numbers – numbers that back up her belief in the thriving local arts community.
From her forthcoming report:
* In 2010, Rhode Island was home to more than 1,000 arts organizations, 5,200 jobs, and $324 million in economic activity.
* The State currently estimates that for every $1 spent by an arts organization in Rhode Island, $2 is generated for the spillover economy in restaurant patronage, hotel reservations, and related business.
* The State has created several arts sectors with adjusted sales-tax in Providence, Pawtucket, Westerly, and Woonsocket, among others, and this has been shown to improve the prosperity of existing area businesses and introduce new, vital, and often technologically-grounded industries.
"We are the state with the third highest level of employment in the arts in the nation. We also have strength to build from. We have such a good foundation in human capital and arts-related business. It's not as if we're starting from a weakness."
Lynne McCormack is the Director of Arts, Culture + Tourism in Providence. She, too, backed up the strength of the local arts scene with hard data. In 2011-12, the City of Providence Department of Art, Culture + Tourism was one of 200 pilot communities partnering with Americans for the Arts on the creation of a Local Arts Index. This tool, modeled on the National Arts Index, measures the vitality, character and performance of local arts activity over time.
Americans for the Arts measured an increase of 145 arts-related businesses in the City of Providence (23% increase) since January 2010. These Creative Industries reports offer a research-based approach to understanding the scope and economic importance of the arts in the United States. Nationally, there are 904,581 businesses in the U.S. involved in the creation or distribution of the arts. They employ 3.34 million people, representing 4.25 percent of all businesses and 2.15 percent of all employees, respectively. (The source for this data is Dunn & Bradstreet.)
The report went on to say that non-profit arts organizations and audiences are a critical part of Providence’s economy. The expenditure of $190,054,892 in nonprofit arts and cultural organizations resulted in 4,669 full-time equivalent jobs. These figures place Providence above the national median and regions of similar size.
Art is a significant part of U.S. economy
In the 2013 Bureau of Economic Analysis report, Joan Shigekawa, National Endowment for the Art’s Senior Deputy Chairman said in a statement, "Art and culture is a significant part of the U.S. economy. Not just its contributions of ideas and creativity to the innovation economy, but also as an important part of the labor force and our country's GDP.”
In a recent article on the best cities for for creative people, Complex.com put Providence at #8:
"Recently rebranding themselves as the creative capital, Providence is set amongst the idyllic backdrop of green tree East Coast vibes. Providence is a special little city that boasts a hardcore academia slant with universities like Brown University and the highly-acclaimed Rhode Island School of Design. The sheer fact that so many creative people flock to Providence to study makes it a great place to meet like minds, even if you aren’t going to school yourself."
Rhode Island's arts community has the advantage of history. Think of Slater Mill and the Industrial Revolution. This was more than just just an economic triumph for America.
"It was also a triumph of the American creative spirit," said Randy Rosenbaum, Executive Director of the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts.
"As Rhode Island became a destination for a diverse population, a number of different layers of creativity became a part of our state psyche. Then we became the jewelry capital of the universe, for a short period of time. The establishment of RISD and all the other higher education assets all contribute to an environment that's vibrant and creative."
Rhode Island's close proximity to art powerhouses such as Boston and New York make it an attractive place for artists to start, or live out, a career. The cost of living is relatively cheaper than other big art cities, and other cities are taking notice.
"You can look at surrounding communities such as New Bedford or Fall River and see that they may be where we were 20 years ago," Rosenbaum said.
He went on to explain that the art community in Rhode Island has had many friends in high places. From Buddy Cianci to Lincoln Chafee, elected officials have consistently supported local artists.
"Buddy Cianci and other leaders helped to establish this as an important thing in people's psyche. And Governor Chafee has been a cheerleader for the arts as well, making people understand that government isn't just about making the dollars work but also contributing to quality and meaningfulness of life. They present the role that the arts can play as part of the public agenda."
Last year, the Governor, Senate President and the Speaker of the House assembled a group of experts at Fidelity Investments in Smithfield to talk about the role the arts play in economic development.
Three broad themes
"Business people, artistic people, government people . . . all of whom looked at the role the arts can play in helping to motivate our economy ahead of the current dismal state that it's in. Three things emerged as broad themes," Rosenbaum said.
1. Make Rhode Island a supportive environment for the arts and a destination for people who want to buy and experience art.
This led to a General Assembly sales tax initiative designed to make Rhode Island a destination for art buyers – who in turn spend money on hotels and restaurants – but also to make arts part of the state brand.
2. Solidify the cultural infrastructure.
"We need to ensure that we have the facilities and the infrastructure to support the influx of people and renewed interest in the arts. Chafee called for a bond initiative to support capital improvements on cultural facilities as well as historic preservation."
3. Arts Education
"To ensure every kid in our state has access to quality arts education, designed to create problem solving people who can think on their own and in teams to be the kind of 21st century workforce that employers are looking for."
Critics might say a state so interested in the arts has few museums to show for it. The RISD Museum is perhaps the most famous, along with the John Brown House Museum, Governor Brown Lippitt House and the Newport Art Museum. Rosenbaum said the answer is in the definition of museum, and the size of the state. For its size, he says, Rhode Island has many excellent museums.
"The arts museums [RISD and Newport] both are operating at a very high level. Also, the historic homes, historical societies … there are an abundance of those kinds of things here in Rhode Island. If you define museum broadly, we've got plenty."
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