Deep Thought Thursday: Arts destination city

Mary Mansey, Granada. Archival pigment print, 19 x 13 inches. ©The Artist.

Mary Mansey, Granada. Archival pigment print, 19 x 13 inches. ©The Artist.

Every time I turn around, there’s another city or town wanting to rebrand itself as an arts destination. I can’t tell you how often I hear this: “Our city council is really supporting the arts and trying to get arts tourists in town.”

Are there too many places trying to do this?

If every place is an arts destination, what next?

If your city has tried to do this, tell us about the results.

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11 comments to Deep Thought Thursday: Arts destination city

  • Lyn

    The sad thing is that often the financial winners are not the artist who create the work, rather the hospitality industry like restaurants, hotels, and services.

    And also I have seen many of these destinations pay no attention to their local artists, instead, bring in big blue chips for city commissions, airport renovations, and the like.

    San Jose, California is in the throws of this debate right now…

  • Lancaster, PA has actually done this to a successful degree. When I was growing up there were hardly any galleries in town even though we had an art school and several quality craft shows each year. When I returned a few years ago, the art scene had exploded. The downtown has become a busy, happening place every First Friday (and now on Music Fridays as well) and we get tourists who come in specifically for the art. It does help that we’re in day trip distance from Philly & Baltimore and that NYC and DC aren’t too far either. Also, Lancaster County has been a tourist destination for other reasons for years (i.e. the Amish).
    In Lancaster, the main focus has been art by local and regional artists (as far as I’ve seen), but galleries will also feature work from more nationally known artists as well.
    I think that you may be right about the hospitality industry benefiting the most from this, but there is enough art bought to keep the galleries in business as well. And new ones are popping up all the time without a similar number of closings. So I would say that so far it’s working out for Lancaster.

  • If any project helps out even one actual artist to pay their rent or buy their materials I’d be hard pressed not to support it. But, the disconnect between the people who dream up these schemes and studio artists can resemble the Grant Canyon.

    I’ve met quite a few prominent civic leaders, politicians, and the like who love to bill themselves as a “Supporter of the Arts” who have never collected a piece of original art.

  • Why can’t every city be an arts destination (or have an ‘arts district’)?
    I’m not sure I get the question.
    If the arts reflect the local culture and people, what’s the problem of letting each city sing it’s own song? Of course one would hope it’s for the sake of the city and people itself and not solely a way to bring in bucks, but if it’s building awareness of the art, what’s the problem?

  • I’ve seen several cities outside of San Francisco, where I live, try to brand themselves at “art” destination cities. Often it’s a large group of artists that are trying to bring awareness to their collective talents. The true test of if a city is a success is in the reality of if the city is able to create a district where art can actually sell to support it’s artists.

    There aren’t too many destination cities. If anything, there could be more because it’s a bit world and a big USA with a lot of people out there. I think that people tend to feel more secure purchasing art in this manner.

  • ..and that Includes ROME, Italy—Pope Benedict XVI has asked hundreds of artists, writers, and musicians to meet with him in the Vatican this fall in an initiative to rekindle “the special historical relationship between faith and art,”. I’m not Catholic, but it interests me that predictions I began hearing in high school,decades ago, on how art will become *the* most important profession to be in are all beginning to show signs of fruition…

  • Lyn: Excellent point. Local artists are often forgotten in this rush to bring in tourists. And, you’re right, for the many chambers of commerce, they’re looking for the big bucks–not really to help out artists. Of course, there will ALWAYS be exceptions.

    Wendy: Thanks for sharing the successes of Lancaster. I certainly went there to see Amish country. It was 20 years ago, but art was the last thing on my mind!

    Philip: This, too has been my experience: “the disconnect between the people who dream up these schemes and studio artists can resemble the Grant Canyon.”

    Tracy: I think there are problems–some expressed by others here. Nothing bad usually ever happens, but personal and real capital often go down the drain on a plan that’s not well thought-out.

    Jenny: When you say: “I think that people tend to feel more secure purchasing art in this manner,” what exactly do you mean?

    Marie: Thanks for that info. I had no idea the Pope was in on this.

  • I recently partnered with another artist and rented a storefront here in downtown Ocala, Florida. I did this because I’m having difficulty getting affluent clients to visit my home studio – they are just not comfortable with that situation (phones ringing, neighbors dropping in, etc.). This new endeavor gives me street cred. I’m not relying on walk in traffic for sales, however, both of us painting in the front windows is certainly a novelty for this town.

    We are working with the city officials to create a Friday Night Artwalk, not to become an art destination but to encourage folks to get back into the habit of coming downtown. Great restaurants, eclectic shopping and specialty stores abound and the business owners are simply jazzed with the “creative” opportunities possible with an Artwalk. If we were to ever evolve into an arts destination, it would be a by-product of these efforts.

  • How about a few galleries in town being local/regional as a minimum for “arts destination” status to be credible.

    Some communities (I believe Tacoma, WA, used to do this) have Chambers of Commerce who benefit and attract artists by helping them resource studios/foundries and homes. Also, they have quality museums.

  • I agree that all cities can benefit from having an ‘art’s district. In Calgary there has been a push to increase the culture downtown with a focus on the arts. Most of the funding has gone into theatre projects but one of the neatest outcomes has been Art Central, a collection of galleries, shops and studios located in a three storey (with basement) building in downtown Calgary. They have similar promotional things as mentioned above: First Thursdays. They also support a lot of the Not-For-
    Profit and charitable organizations in the city by providing the space after hours for events.
    I still wouldn’t call Calgary an ‘arts desitination’, but I would definitely have to say this particular venue is an off-the-beaten path tourist attraction for visitors looking to see more than just the Stampede.

  • Midcoast Maine is an Arts Destination, and has been for a century or more, first attracting artists, including one family you may know: the Wyeths, and another local artist: Alex Katz, who has given a large gallery of his work to Colby College, and Robert Indiana who has an amazing retrospective up at the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland. Rockland, Maine, is a town transformed by the arts. It was a limestone burning, sardine packing, seaweed processing town barely 10 years ago, and smelled like it too. Now the Farnsworth Art Museum houses the Wyeth Center, and busy, successful galleries line Main Street, along with some really good restaurants. The various art institutions throughout the state are good about showing Maine artists because there are so many of us, and a lot of us are famous (well the manager of my art supply store calls me the world famous Carla Sanders.) Other places could take lessons from Rockland, Maine, as well as Belfast, up the coast a few miles. Though when the ” Creative Economy” became a buzz word a few years ago, people did forget the artists, seeing developers, alternative energy, and e-tech industries as the leaders. The artists took things into their own hands, opening galleries, serving on boards, and creating art studio tour weekends. It is good to be an artist here.