I had a conversation the other day with a Carmel resident who was asking about why the City of Carmel spends so much on the arts.
To them, the arts were a luxury and not worth spending a lot of public money.
I patiently listened to her thoughts but I also shared my viewpoint. To me, spending on the arts is a way to invest in economic development. Communities that support the arts tend to attract interesting restaurants and boutique retail stores. They attract new residents, many of them millennials who are coveted by employers hungry for new employees. And they give our community character. All of these things in turn attract corporate headquarters which helps pay taxes that support the quality of life for the area.
There are a lot of strategies for economic development. Many cities use sports. The City of Indianapolis invested in the Pan Am Plaza decades ago as a way to attract sporting events and Mayor Bill Hudnut famously took a major risk by building a stadium for an NFL team before the Colts were lured to town. His gamble paid off and Indianapolis has reaped the benefits of having NBA and NFL franchises.
Unfortunately, the game has changed and major sports teams now hold all of the leverage when it comes to negotiating deals. If cities don’t give sweetheart deals when it comes to new stadiums then NFL, MBA and MLB teams often threaten to leave and relocate elsewhere. Often the threats become reality and another city throws ridiculous incentives in order to lure them away. The effect of losing a major sports team is horrendous economically but the cost of keeping one can be pricey too.
Even if a city can succesfully keep a major team, there are factors beyond a mayor’s control. A winning or losing season can mean millions of dollars difference for a city. A mayor can’t control whether a general manager drafts well or whether a coach calls the right plays but a championship season can mean a huge infusion of cash economically. And frequent losing years can mean empty stadiums, quiet bars and vacant hotels
By using the arts as an economic development tool, a municipality doesn’t have to worry about a team leaving to move to another city. They don’t have to worry about wins or losses. The ball is in their own court, so to speak.
Sure, the average person spends less money on the arts than they do on sports. In 2017, there was $56 billion spent on attending sporting events alone in the United States, more than $100 billion if you include all spending on sports. Worldwide — not just in the U.S. — only $63 billion was spent on the arts in 2017. North America made up a third of that number. So it’s a smaller amount for sure, but the study doesn’t include the multiplier effect of arts spending, such as people going out to eat before an arts show or concert. It doesn’t include someone who stopped at a clothing store after traveling to an area to check out some art.
In addition, we also have to evolve our definition of art. It doesn’t just mean painting and sculptures and plays. It also means concerts and movies and fashion and more. Art really is anything that uses creativity to express an idea. And it’s a tool to attract new restaurants and give cities throughout Hamilton County their own unique identity.