Sharing arts initiatives evokes great pride

By Anne E. O’Keefe
Rockford Area Arts Council

I was honored to present at the Tri-State Presenters Conference at University of Dubuque. The topic was community revitalization and the role of the arts and creativity. The conference is a cooperative effort with Illinois Presenters Network, Iowa Presenters Network, and Wisconsin Presenters Network, which aims to support and enrich the activities of presenting organizations.

Arts and civic leaders across the country know that the arts and creativity are integral to civic revitalization, economic growth, and healthy, vibrant communities. I joined a panel of enthusiastic, dedicated doers: Debra Alleyne, Arts & Cultural Affairs Coordinator, City of Dubuque; Dan LoBiano, Director, Downtown Dubuque; with facilitator Anne Katz, Executive Director, Arts Wisconsin.

I had to share our findings from the Arts and Economic Prosperity Study, completed in 2012, thanks to Americans for the Arts and Arts Alliance Illinois and their support. Spending by nonprofit arts and culture organizations and their audiences in the Greater Rockford Area supports more than 1,000 full-time-equivalent jobs. This spending generates $21.2 million in household income, including salaries, wages, and entrepreneurial income and delivers $2.7 million in local and state government revenue. It proves that the arts mean jobs and revenue in our region, a message that bears repeating. People who attend art events contribute beyond the ticket price. They go to dinner, pay for parking, go out after, what does that impact look like? On average each residents spends an additional $15.59 and each visitors spends an additional $24.09. We are all excited to see the positive impact the UW Sports Factory will have on our cultural and arts attractions over the coming years.

We are so fortunate to have artists and business owners that see the value of the arts as an important component of attracting and retaining talent and that value it for our sense of community pride.

We have Art Attack, where in artists donate time and materials and business owners provide the “canvas,” their windows. We have Community Art Cart, a project that seeks to put creative materials in the hands of everyone by creating and supporting modest public repositories. Visit the one we have a RAAC. We have artists making the RAAC booth at Rockford City Market come to life with live painting and innovative photo ops. We will be inviting the community to help us paint our ArtsPlace mural on the Jefferson Street Bridge, date to be determined.

Peter Kageyama, author of For the Love of Cities: The Love Affair Between People was in Rockford a few weeks ago. My take away, “make it fun, keep it simple.” There are a million examples of how cities and artists do small things that catch the attention of both residents and visitors. Funding for large scale projects is a bit illusive at present but that doesn’t mean we can’t carry on and have fun! Lend a hand to a creative project that exists or invent your own. The time is now!

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