Arts and culture industry must stand up for itself

Arts and culture industry must stand up for itself

Published:  Savannah Morning News, August 5, 2017

I want to applaud Kristopher Monroe’s article “SavArtScene: Arts Has Economic Impact On Savannah” and to suggest a call to action for the arts and culture industry.

First, he was spot on when communicating that the economic impact of the arts and culture industry in the Savannah Metro area was far more than $135 million and 4,548 jobs when taking into account for-profit organizations too.

The report is an absolute must read for both the city and county leadership.

However, it concerns me there is a lack of real recognition of such economic impact by our public policy makers. In December, the City of Savannah attempted to cut operating funds altogether and is today, in all likelihood, strategizing a way to phase out funding in the future. This city funding issue is in addition to Chatham County’s near lack of any operating funds at all, save a pair of special interest museums earmarked by commissioners.

I’ll admit it is only a rough estimate and warrants further review, but during the survey term the City provided $764,320 in cultural affairs funding and one could extrapolate that for each $1 invested (not expensed, mind you) in arts and culture that it returned $178. It is important to note that Chatham County contributed no operating funds. Furthermore, rough estimates reveal that during the same period, film and TV production’s economic impact was about $126 million. Between City and County, there was $2 million in funding and incentives, which thus returned $63 for each dollar invested. It may be the opinion of many that arts and culture is not as sexy as film and TV production, but the numbers show that it is a better investment. And, further, with arts and culture, all the profits stay in our community and is a true magnet for tourism. Tourism is not simply good for arts and culture; it’s more like arts and culture is fantastic for tourism.

What is pressing today, however, is the City’s “Savannah Forward” strategic plan. It will soon be released to the public, and will drive the budgeting process. What it will show is that arts and culture will be omitted entirely from the discussion. It’s not mentioned and not integrated.

I don’t have space to go into detail all the intrinsic or extrinsic value of what arts and culture provide, but suffice it to say that it contributes more than just an economic impact. Arts and culture helps to better literacy, mitigate crime, improve our creativity in work and home, contributes to cultural diplomacy, and improves our overall quality of life, which, last I heard, businesses want for their employees when considering relocation or expanding, among other values. Simply put, there’s no downside to arts and culture but alas it won’t have a clear place in “Savannah Forward.” You’ll find tourism and film and TV featured, but tourists do not travel to Savannah for film and TV production, they come for our arts and culture, along side its history and architecture. The food is pretty good too.

To respond to the City and to begin the process of advocating for more positive arts and culture public policy decision making at all levels of government an initiative has been started, the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Chatham County. I’ve already reached out to as many organizations as I could locate, but all are welcome to join the cause. The response has been good, but this town needs arts and culture leadership, and it needs to recognize there is strength in unity. It’s time to be proactive and stop being so reactive to decisions being made by our elected officials.

In conclusion, I stood before City council in December and said that the arts and culture industry is good business. It’s time for the industry to take a seat at the table to where there is proactive marketing, recruitment, and incentive efforts comparable to what is being invested in the film office and other industries. Chatham County and the City of Savannah needs to make active and positive public policy decisions and recognize the arts and culture industry as a driving force of tourism and an industry that contributes much to our community. The City needs to invest more, and Chatham County needs to invest, period. I encourage all to join the cause to help strengthen our economy, our community, our creativity, and our overall well-being.

Patrick A. Kelsey is a member of the Arts and Culture Alliance of Chatham County.