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How Funding The Arts Can Build a Better Columbus

Walker Evans Walker Evans How Funding The Arts Can Build a Better ColumbusPhoto form the 2013 Columbus Arts Festival by Erin Bloodgood.
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What can Columbus be doing better to show institutional support for local arts organizations?

Robert Lynch, President and CEO of Americans for the Arts, has been invited to Columbus for three days to help answer that question.

For over a half century we’ve been the national organization advocating for arts in America at the national and local level,” he stated in a phone interview yesterday. “We were founded back in 1960 as collection of all arts councils, which at the time was as few as 100 organizations. Today we’re advocating on behalf of over 3,000 arts councils.”

One of the most important ways that arts funding has remained a priority across the country is through the evolving role that the arts can play in economic development efforts. In 2011, Rocco Landesman — Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts — was brought to Columbus to begin a conversation on that topic with local civic and business leaders including Les Wexner, Mayor Michael Coleman and Columbus Foundation President Doug Kridler. The public panel event sparked some interesting conversation the topic that Lynch says is important to continue to discuss.

“It’s critical — It’s actually at the core of why support for the arts has continued even through the recession,” he said. “At different times you hear about arts funding going out or being attacked. In reality, the arts have seen tremendous growth and success over last half century. The arts in general, if invested in, tend to be a catalyst for additional investment in community revitalization, and there are lots of examples of that all across the country.”

Lynch points to the way a city may showcase public art in its airport as a welcoming feature for new visitors, or how a hip urban neighborhood established around art galleries and the creative class is often one of the focal points for a city’s branding campaign. The Short North is one local example that falls into that latter category — but The Short North originated through grassroots and individual efforts without much in the way of governmental support, especially in the early years. Which begs the question — What sort of balance needs to be struck between institutional intervention and the creative place-making efforts of artists and entrepreneurs that make a neighborhood vibrant and unique?

“I’m a big believer in community-wide cultural planning,” explained Lynch. “Not everything must happen through a plan, but its a good idea to think through these kinds of questions on a city wide basis before investing.”

He continues by saying that government can play a role by providing incentives for grassroots activities that allow for organic growth, while at the same time investing in anchor institutions in a way that compliment those efforts.

“This is not just a one-story answer,” said Lynch. “Arts venues will be followed by restaurants and other businesses who want to be located nearby. So it’s not just about parks, and not just about arts and not just business — it’s about an integrated approach.”

Lynch will be visiting Columbus from April 30th through May 2nd, and will take part in several events including a public reception tonight at the Cultural Arts Center where he will be interviewed on stage by GCAC President Tom Katzenmeyer, as well as a “Conversations & Coffee” event at the CAC on Thursday at Noon.

“I’ve been to Columbus a half a dozen times in the last 30 years,” said Lynch. “It’s a vibrant community with a lot of different things going on. There are festivals and world class events — there is a sense about the city that it is a player. What I’m most excited about is seeing a continuation of that approach, and how that will continue to attract new residents and increase livability.”

For more info, visit www.culturalartscenteronline.org and www.americansforthearts.org.

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