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What's Up Magazine

Art as an Economy Kick, What Do You Think?

Jun 28, 2016 03:00PM ● By Cate Reynolds
By Ellen Moyer

In 2009, The Arts and Humanities Task Force chaired by President of St. John's College, Chris Nelson, determined that “Annapolis has the potential to become a city recognized as a National Arts destination, based on the quantity, quality, and diversity of its arts.” The report also recognized a conservative economic impact of the Arts within Annapolis at $45,000,000 in 2007 dollars.

Despite the economic impact and the city’s long history as a cultural center, the Athens of Colonial America and with cultural assets surpassing most cities in the nation, the Task Force identified impediments to achieving an arts strategy as: “A perception that the City Council is not supportive of Arts in the City” and a lack of coordination and collaboration between the city departments and arts organizations. This general disinterest impeded branding and promotion for the Capital City for the Arts.

Indeed over the last five years barriers to public art have increased as City leaders have ignored the economic potential of the arts. Reports after report describe how cities on the brink of economic failure have survived from an investment in the arts. Meanwhile Main Street Annapolis suffers from multiple vacant retail centers that sap the economic energy from the heart of our city.

Interestingly the controversial City Dock plan in 2013 identified Public Art as basic to the improvements of City Dock. This section of the City Dock plan adopted by the Council is now a part of the City’s comprehensive plan where it has lingered and been ignored.

Funding is a principal issue. A standard form of funding around the nation is an allocation of one percent of the capital budget allocated to art either on site of the capital improvement or dedicated to a fund for public art in public places. The city has no such law and no interest in adopting this standard. Consider what such a law could have done to enhance the city dock based on the major improvement now going on in the city’s harbor. Wide sidewalks, new landscaping, new art, and refurbishment of the public spaces on Compromise Street that now send a message of city dereliction and neglect could have been met.

Theresa Cameron with Americans for Arts noted in a lecture at Maryland Hall that 4.3 percent of national revenue comes from the non profit cultural and arts industry, an amount higher than the tourism and construction industries. More than 500 billion dollars is contributed to the nations gross domestic product which according to The US. Bureau of Economic Analysis represents 3.2–3.7 percent of the nation’s total gross domestic product.

In 2015, the Annapolis Historic Preservation Commission, responding to a paint controversy, sought control over artistic content on private and public property alienating most of the city’s art community. It is rare for Historic Preservation Commissions anywhere in America to have authority over public art (in some cities known for their art as Savannah, Georgia, for example they are specifically excluded). The heightened disagreement between the arts community and the Historic Preservation Commission’s amendments to the City code further cloud the issue of the benefits that art and culture provide to the local economy and the quality of life within it.

Instead of squabbling over who controls and regulates public art in Annapolis, and putting off public art enhancement, the City should be embracing the planning process and funding strategies for the arts to enhance our economic vitality and to realize the potential offered by our extraordinary cultural assets.

What do you think and why?

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