Yesterday I posted a blog about the fine line between arts and graffiti and I wanted to follow up today with some more discussion about the topic from a slightly different angle. Here’s the deal — Kent has an artistic advantage right now. We’re known for being a bit more over the top with our artistic expression than most of our homogenized suburban peers. We’ve got an edge and a very cool fashion design museum that puts Kent in the same breath as the exceedingly fashionable New York City. The bad news (as I talked about yesterday) is that bohemian edge prefers chaos over control which can make it hard for all the parts to come together as neatly as they do in some of our peer cities. And worse than that the lack of control can produce collateral damage like graffiti. So how do we take that artistic advantage and focus it positively?
At a time when cities are all looking for an advantage to attract people to their city, the arts is a great advatage to have. Thanks to galleries in Kent and Kent’s reputation people already travel many miles to come experience a piece of our art world. I know that at the recent shows at McKay Bricker and the Kent State Gallery visitors came all the way down from Cleveland to enjoy Kent’s artistic vibe.
But here’s what I worry about. All’s fair in love and economic development and right now as I write this our peer cities are busy planning ways to steal the arts out from underneath us. Remember when downtown Kent was the shopping haven — well they stole that from us too, first with their suburban malls then more recently by trying to build historic downtowns from scratch. The funny thing is, apparently if you spend enough money you can buy your way in to a position of advantage.
I know we haven’t had the kind of money that places like Hudson or Chagrin Falls have, so we really haven’t been able to compete with them head-to-head which is probably why they’ve been able to replace us as the place to go enjoy a downtown experience. It’s sort of like the cola wars — we’re still the real thing but our neighbors have been able to spend enough money to take what we have and create newer copy-cat versions that are good enough to bump us out of first place in terms of market share.
We need the Kent arts community to work with us to ensure the future of the arts in Kent. We probably also need to talk about coming up with funding for the arts. Money is indeed tight but it seems to me that a little investment can go a long way in securing our arts advantage. If we don’t we need to be prepared to watch our advantage diminish as our peers are coming up with plans right now to fund the arts in their community.
Don’t take my word for it, read this recent article from the Chagrin Valley Times for yourself.
Arts funding urged as part of Chagrin budget
By BARBARA CHRISTIAN
The Chagrin Foundation for Arts and Culture withdrew its request Monday for $20,000 from Chagrin Falls Village Council and instead recommended that a budget item be added for support of the arts. No dollar amount was suggested.
Budget hearings are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. March 6 in Village Hall.
Foundation board President Stephen Thomas said council must decide if village government should support culture and arts and, if so, to what degree. His comments were made during the village arts commission meeting prior to the regular council session.
Letters of support from the Chagrin Valley Little Theatre, the Chagrin Light Orchestra and commercial property owner Patty Hridel were passed out to commission members. Mr. Thomas said a letter was not included from the Valley Art Center, which is undertaking its own fund-raising efforts. The VAC letter stated its support for the foundation but suggested that the village find an equitable procedure for funding requests.
Mr. Thomas said the foundation “has been unable to connect with the Valley Art Center,” but Chagrin Valley Little Theatre has seen growth through the foundation’s activities. If council sees fit to set aside funds for the arts, all of the groups will benefit, he said. Instead of a process in which funding would be divided among the arts and cultural groups, he said, they could get together and agree on how to put them to the best use. One example would be advertising Chagrin Falls arts and cultural activities together, he said.
Included with the letters of support was a 10-point plan published by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which says that the arts are “critical to the quality of life and livability of America’s cities.” It adds that “governments which support the arts on average see a return on investment of over $7 in taxes for every $1 the government appropriates.”
“It’s not a waste of money but an investment,” Mr. Thomas said.
“The audiences being brought to town mean a lot of people are here and spending money,” commission member Donald Edelman said. Cities like Parma and Lakewood always have budgeted funding for the arts, he said, “so there must be a reason.”
Cleveland Heights budgets $300,000 for its summer festival season, Mr. Thomas added.
“A 7-to-1 ratio is a real thing,” commission member Scott Lax said. “It’s not just a financial return but an intellectual one. I recommend council try to find some money. If it’s $5 or $5,000, it will show our village supports the effort.”
Councilman Dwight Milko, council’s representative to the foundation, said he will not be in town for the budget hearings but will write a memo to council regarding the budget request.
“There are tough times ahead” for the village, Mr. Milko said, because of the Smith Barney brokerage and Windsor Hospital leaving. But the new South Franklin Circle retirement complex nearby in Bainbridge will soon bring between “300 and 400 new residents at the village doorstep,” and said, and retirees “have been supporting the arts for a long time.”
Commission chairwoman Jean Hood said public-private partnerships are not a new idea, and it was something the commission wanted to support from its conception a year ago. “We are very much a work in progress as well,” she said.
Mr. Milko said there was no way that the village could have operated the foundation’s successful Chautauqua series on its own and credited the foundation for “pulling the groups together to make it happen.”
Mr. Thomas described the Chautauqua series as the “kindling” toward increased profits for everyone involved, including the village’s tax base. “If council does not want to participate, we are going to have to think of something else,” he said.