Friday, January 29, 2010

Arts and the Empty Downtown

It’s 5:15 and I am gazing out my office window over the central block of historic downtown Lumberton, located about 40 minutes south of Fayetteville. I have a great view from my lovely office on the second floor of the recently restored Carolina Civic Center historic theater, a smallish (seats 440) arts center that first opened in 1928.

For 15 minutes I watched the several hundred employees of the county courthouse and a few adjacent banks walking to their cars and quickly evacuating the downtown. By 5:25 the entire place is mostly empty. Besides my theater, the only thing open is the Blackwater Grille – a great restaurant located in a beautifully reclaimed and outfitted former warehouse a few blocks away. I hear from my many potential patrons that they’re either afraid of the downtown after 5pm or that it’s simply off their radar – why on earth would I stay/travel down there?

Yeah, it’s a bit of a marketing challenge and it goes a little beyond placing flyers on windshields or puncturing tires (just kidding!). Lumberton’s not alone, though, and its beautiful architecture and river (the Lumber) make its potential obvious to visitors.

Reclaiming empty downtowns for productive use is such a key component for community growth and has been accomplished in some of my favorite places in North Carolina. I’m thinking of Salisbury, Sanford (with its own historic theater), and the classic story of Triad Stage that helped rejuvenate Elm Street in downtown Greensboro. Even Statesville is renewing storefront by storefront. Downtown Wilmington, where I also live, was empty 18 years ago when I first moved there, having rezoned strip clubs and such out of existence…and then the pioneers started buying up and moving in and opening galleries, restaurants and theater spaces.

And so much of this revitalization is based on or around the arts. A few like-minded individuals –some with money and connections and others with raw passion- make it happen. It’s always a battle but a theater, a few galleries, a history museum in an historic site, a few antique shops and suddenly you’ve got some energy and then visitors and then tax revenues and so forth. Often it just starts with festivals or a First Night event.

Of course, which comes first, the chicken or the egg? The arts-based attractions or the proof that any of this works enough to be worth the investment of time and money and advocacy? Maybe the theater and the Blackwater are the first of a trend but we need more to create the critical mass.

A 2006 Dayton Daily News article recounts the purchase and restoration of the 19th –century Newberry Center opera house located smack in the center of downtown and quotes the couple who bought the dilapidated building for $85,000: “They can really serve as an anchor for the small-town revival.”

The North Carolina Arts Council’s strategic plan, which can be downloaded from the web site at , contains “Vibrant Communities” as one of its five goals, including making the arts “a centerpiece of North Carolina's changing cityscapes and city life.” You can read it but one of the strategies calls for starting a “smART Cities” program to help cities create arts and entertainment districts and work spaces for artists. Also included is capital funding to help maintain those “pioneer” storefront galleries and textile mill museums that made revitalization of their downtowns possible. Hey, maybe there will be something in there for my little theater!

If you haven’t read it yet, the “Creative North Carolina” strategic plan is a document filled with powerful ideas but the timeline for its implementation obviously is subject to the state’s economic recovery. Arts North Carolina, our statewide advocacy organization, isn’t in any kind of holding pattern, though, and I’m really looking forward to the good work ahead – with your help.

Richard Sceiford
Carolina Civic Center (Lumberton)
ARTS North Carolina Board of Directors

Friday, January 22, 2010

Bigger Picture

Bigger Picture

If you want a clue about what people value, look at how they spend money. If our governmental systems spend the majority of our tax dollars on education, and those systems pay lip service to the arts, what does it say to the community at large about the value of the arts to our society and in specific, our communities? Wouldn’t you expect the “arts are nice but not essential” policy of school systems to affect our arts organizations and artists?

If our government leaders talk about dropout rates and we know that the arts keep kids in schools, isn’t it logical to legislate funding and policy to effective programs? In a Guilford County study in 2001, 33 students involved in athletics dropped out of school. 5 students involved in performing arts dropped out of school. That year, Guilford County had a total of 974 students leave school before graduation.

If students who are heavily involved in arts have demonstrated greater accomplishments in school than their non-arts peers, can we expect the Governor’s new emphasis on achievement to incorporate significant arts education policy and support?

If we just celebrated King Day and maybe even got a day off of work, could we frame arts education advocacy as our opportunity to achieve social justice? Affluent systems have arts education programs, albeit ones extremely vulnerable because North Carolina does not have a comprehensive arts education policy. But even if our major systems continue to eliminate arts positions and programs, the “haves” will make sure their children get those private dance lessons. Where does that leave the rest of the population who do not have means or opportunity?

Public education is our democratic playing field. Either we believe the arts are inherently our right and are essential to education, community, and development as human beings, or we don’t. Where do you fall on the question and what are you willing to do about it?

Karen Wells
ARTS North Carolina

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Institute for Emerging Issues - Creativity in Education

Judy Osborne, Theatre Educator from Southern Pines, will serve on a panel at the Emerging Issues Forum facilitated by Governor Jim Hunt.

The panel will explore creativity in education, and Judy's "small" task is to represent the importance of arts education. Obviously, that subject cannot be adequately covered in an hour, even if she had the entire program, so we want to suggest themes that should be highlighted. The Governor's new education initiative, Ready Set Go, is a good place to start.

If you have anecdotal information or research and data that illustrates the role of arts education in student retention, graduation, achievement, or attendance that can be specifically cited in the panel presentation, please forward to

Example: [so-and-so] has been teaching theatre for 20 years and has advised and served an estimated 2,000 engaged students (i.e. those who continue beyond the basic courses). In that time, only 3 of her theatre students have dropped out of school. The state's drop-out rate hovers around 30%.

Arts Accessibility and Inclusion Workshops

Arts Access, in partnership with the North Carolina Arts Council, is offering arts organizations across the state the opportunity to learn more about accessibility for people with disabilities. Gather with others in the field seeking information and resources for achieving accessibility to share experiences and learn methods that will build a foundation to support access and inclusion in the arts. In collaboration with the United Arts Council of Catawba County and the United Arts Council of Raleigh and Wake County, the Arts Accessibility and Inclusion workshops are scheduled in Hickory on March 9th and 10th and in Raleigh on March 16th and 17th.  Join us for one or both of the workshop dates in the location near you.

The registration fee for one workshop day is $25 per person. If you choose to attend both workshop days, your total registration fee is $40 per person. Lunch is included in the registration fee. To register, visit and download the registration form. If more than one person from your organization is attending, each person must complete a separate registration form. Please mail the completed registration form, along with a check made out to Arts Access, Inc., to:

Arts Access, Inc.
Access Workshops
PO Box 10574
Raleigh NC 27605-0574

For questions about the workshops or accommodations, please contact Catherine Lavenburg at the N.C. Arts Council, or 919/807-6501.

To learn more about Arts Access, Inc., please visit

ARTS Day 2010 - Mark Your Calendars Now!

ARTS Day 2010 will be held May 18 & 19, and more than any year in our history, it is imperative that people come to Raleigh and demonstrate their support for public funding for the arts.  Since 2010 is an election year, it is essential to establish the presence of arts in election issues.

Did you know that all North Carolina Senators and Representatives must be re-elected every two years?  

Special plans this year are underway to host the May 18th workshop and opening reception at North Carolina's international destination, the "new" Museum of Art, featuring a gift of 36 Rodins and a stunning expansion of the state's collection.  Mark your calendars now! More information soon!

ARTS North Carolina gives a huge new year shout of appreciation to ARTS Day 2010 Sponsors.

Lead Sponsors include:
Arts and Science Council, Arts Council of Fayetteville/Cumberland County, Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, Brevard Music Center, Flat Rock Playhouse, North Carolina Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, North Carolina Museum of Art, North Carolina Symphony, and North Carolina Theatre Conference.  

Supporting Sponsors include:
Cherokee Historical Association, North Carolina Museums Council, North Carolina Writers' Network, United Arts Council of Greater Greensboro, and United Arts Council of Raleigh and Wake County.  

We give a special thank you to Audio & Light in Greensboro and Hillco in Kinston for serving as Major Business Sponsors of ARTS North Carolina for 2009-2010.  

Sponsors will be featured on ARTS North Carolina's home page, and only members are eligible to become ARTS Day sponsors.  For more information, contact Karen at 919/834-1411 or

Monday, January 11, 2010

If the Arts Are Such An Economic Driver, Why Is It So Difficult To Obtain Support?

All of us have seen the studies and reports:

Nationally, the nonprofit arts and culture industry generates $166.2 billion in economic activity every year—$63.1 billion in spending by organizations and an additional $103.1 billion in event-related spending by their audiences. Additionally the nonprofit arts and culture industry provides:

  • 5.7 million full-time equivalent jobs
  • $104.2 billion in household income
  • $7.9 billion in local government tax revenues
  • $9.1 billion in state government tax revenues
  • $12.6 billion in federal income tax revenues
(Source: “ARTS & ECONOMIC PROSPERITY III” – Americans for the Arts)

In North Carolina, the creative industries contributed more than $3.9 billion in wages to the state economy and employed over 159,000 people.
(Source: “Creative Economy: The Arts Industry in North Carolina” – NC Arts Council)

The craft industry in the 25 counties of Western North Carolina provides an annual economic impact of over $206 million per year.
(Source: “ECONOMIC IMPACT of the Professional Craft Industry of Western North Carolina” – Handmade in America)

“Arts and culture are important to state economies. Arts and culture-related industries, also known as ‘creative industries,’ provide direct economic benefits to states and communities: They create jobs, attract investments, generate tax revenues, and stimulate local economies through tourism and consumer purchases.”
(Source: “ARTS & the ECONOMY – Using Arts and Culture to Stimulate State Economic Development" National Governors Association)

I don’t think there is any argument that the “creative industry” is in fact a significant economic driver… at the national, state and local level. If that is the case, why then is it so difficult to get support (not just financial) at all levels of government and from many parts of the private sector? I believe there are a number of reasons for this “disconnect”.

One reason is confusion in defining what is being measured… in other words, what is this “industry”. Is it the broadly defined “creative industry” or is it “arts”, “cultural”, “crafts” or other identifiers? Is it both non-profit and for profit organizations? Is it individuals and corporations? When you talk about the “bio-tech” industry… most folks have a fairly good idea of what it is, even though it covers a very broad range of activities.

A second reason for the “disconnect” is a lack of unity because of the "industry's" great diversity. While there are many organizations that represent various aspect of the “creative industry”, there is no broad “over riding” group or organization. Back to “bio tech”… there is the Biotechnology Industry Organization as well as the local, state and national Chambers of Commerce that represent virtually all biotech companies on a variety of topics and issues.

I believe there is a third reason for the “disconnect” and that is while there are a number of very good plans and strategies for certain segments of this “creative industry”, there is no single “plan” or “strategy” for the over all “creative industry”.

So what should we do about all of this? We know that our current economic situation is certainly not going to allow for significant additional funding or growth in virtually all areas of our society. However, it does not preclude us from doing the planning for the future. An effort like this must be a “tops down” effort. With forward thinking folks like our current Secretary of Cultural Affairs, Linda Carlisle and our Secretary of Commerce, J. Keith Crisco, I believe now is the time to address this opportunity on a statewide basis. I believe a good starting point is the National Governor’s Association’s recent paper, “ARTS & the ECONOMY – Using Arts and Culture to Stimulate State Economic Development" (

Additionally, we can certainly learn from the experience of others… Austin and the state of Texas, Arizona, Portland, Oregon and others. If we are going to truly benefit from the fact that the Creative Industry is an Economic Driver, it is up to us in the industry to lead the way.

Phil Atwood
Asheville, North Carolina

Monday, January 4, 2010

Early Sunday Morning

Jack the dog is incapable of resetting his internal clock when it’s vacation time, and so it was that I came to have the tv on at 5:45am on Sunday. I wasn’t sure whether to wake the household up laughing, throw tennis shoes at the screen, or take an antidepressant. 30 seconds of… “Starving artist sale at Holiday Inn at Crabtree Mall. Oil paintings as low as $19.”

Pity is not a friend of the arts. Such messages invoke dear friends and respected artists huddled on interstate exits trying to catch the eye of hurried drivers. And in the game of public funding, we will never win the “need” game, not in this economy. Not with education cut 10% and Health and Human Services cut 30%. Can you imagine the arts threatening to file a lawsuit against the state for lack of funding as is possible by the Mental Health sector?

A transformative event happened five years ago. ARTS North Carolina thought our job was to convince “others” of our public value. So we produced a still relevant dvd that asked citizens, “Why do you think the arts are important?” The work of art (dvd) that answered this question still has the power to move as it reminds us that we must first believe. Are we absolutely convinced beyond a shadow that what we do is essential, not just “nice”? Do we approach each day with a sense of urgency that what we have to say cannot wait? Are we compelled to tell others? Are our stories straight and our facts in order? Does our message center on what we bring to the world, not what the world should bring to us?

For those old enough to remember the culture wars of Jesse Helms and the NEA attack, there was one question/answer I will take to my grave. Why was the movement successful? How could vitriolic attacks on art gain such support and momentum? And one day, like a vision, it came to me on public radio. People are drawn to passion, and the extremes offer all the passion you can misuse in a lifetime.

So my New Year’s resolution? Bring on the naysayers. I’ll match you passion for passion and raise you one.

Karen Wells
ARTS North Carolina