Ever since Richard Florida wrote his book “The Rise of the Creative Class” there”s been a race to see who can attract those funky, nonconventional “20 to 30 somethings” who have for the last 10 years at least been excellent markers of economic vitality. Dr. Florida wasn’t trying to start a revolution but in a way that’s exactly what he did in the world of city economic development. Whether you agree or disagree with his findings, he has forever changed the way we look at our cities as catalysts for propserity.
I heard Dr. Florida speak 2 years ago and he is quick to point out that he’s an academic not a politician. He studies not promotes. He explained the all he tried to do in his work was to connect the dots, not script a social/political economic agenda. Yet in highlighting the remarkable economic success of cities that had large gay populations and other counter-culture elements, his conclusions drew immediate reaction from both the left and right side of the political spectrum. To some he became a hero while others saw him as public enemy number one.
Irrespective of political persuasion, his insights have certainly broadened the lens through which most cities viewed their economic development strategies. His book suggested that economic vitality in our multi-media, globally competitive, hyper-information-knowledge-is-king world is more than dark blue business suits; it”s also got room for green spiked hair and alterative lifestyles.
He noted that being able to mix a lot of different people, from different places, with different likes and dislikes brings a lot of economic horsepower to a city but it also takes a high degree of tolerance for everyone to all get along. He discovered that the mix seems to work best in cities with that a lot of cultural amenities like art, music, and theater. I”m not sure if the arts comes first or follows, but either way it legitimized the role of arts and culture in business development and gave a whole new crop of people a seat at the economic table. Art became more than pretty pictures, it was fuel for the economic engine.
Here in Kent, we have an active and growing arts community that is contributing to cultural tourism. The Kent Stage hosts music events all year long that bring people into Kent from hundreds of miles away. DICE sponsors competitive ice carving, outdoor movies, cider fests and much more in downtown Kent. Standing Rock Art Gallery has become a center for cultural creations in Kent and we have our very own glass blowing academy just a mile down the road from downtown. Woodsy”s Music brings in over 400 students a week from all over northeast Ohio to learn the musical trades. Kent State hosts the annual Folk Festival and KSU has it’s own downtown art gallery.
The good news is that culture is being made every day here in Kent. Maybe we haven’t officially unveiled our strategy for cultural tourism — but it’s already alive and well.
But the arts does even more than just stimulate the local economy. It helps build community. That”s why I love the adopted phrase of Standing Rock, “Building Community Through the Arts.” That says it all.
Support Kent Arts every chance you can. If not for business reasons, then for the Kent community. I can’t think of a better cause to rally behind than that.