Arts and the economy, a virtuous pair

Mar. 16, 2013 @ 03:12 PM

Among the many elements of transformation of Durham from the tobacco-and-textile town of old to a surging City of Medicine with a lively vibe that regularly gets noted by the national media has been the emergence of an ever-more-varied arts scene.

The arts are not just a happy consequence of growth, diversity and economic robustness – they are among the driving factors.

That’s a message that a Triangle Arts Summit last week at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill wanted to make clear.

Triangle ArtWorks, one of two nonprofits sponsoring the summit, writes on its website of its goal to foster “a new business-centric way of supporting the visual and performing arts and creative industries.”

State government leaders have long recognized the symbiotic relationship between business success and the arts. Last year, the N. C. Department of Cultural Resources launched a grant-making program to encourage cities to forge ties between business and the arts.

In this region, we know full well the value of the arts in encouraging the growth that is reflected in U. S. Census data released Thursday that show the Durham-Chapel Hill Metropolitan Area grew by 3.7 percent from April 1, 2010 to July 1 of last year. That’s the 35th fastest rate of growth among the country’s metro areas, and boosts us from the 104th largest to the 102 largest – putting us in striking distance of breaking into the top 100 metros.

Beyond the statistics, the importance of the arts to the economic health of our region was reflected in comments at the arts summit. As The Herald-Sun’s Cliff Bellamy reported, “Chris Beacham, senior program director of the North Carolina Arts Council, cited Durham’s downtown redevelopment as combining the qualities of being ‘funky and organic’ while at the same time attracting businesses and entrepreneurs.”

There’s still, of course, much to be done. Arts North Carolina, a statewide group and the other sponsor of the summit, is pledged to “grow public support for the arts and arts education” and “provide dynamic advocacy training and assistance on the local level,” among other goals.

Supporting the arts certainly enhances the quality of life for residents here and across the state. And it’s good business too – a virtuous alliance that Durham is among the leaders in the state in embracing.