Art for Change

 
image: Irene Rinaldi

image: Irene Rinaldi

New York, Los Angeles, Boston, and Minneapolis have long been go-to examples of cities with well-developed cultural sectors. We know these cities as places with booming populations that continue to grow by attracting creative industries. Cross-sector support for wide-ranging municipal investment in cultural planning to bolster creative industries with tax incentives, affordable artist housing and studio space, accessible public transportation, and continuing education are woven into the fabric of city life. It makes perfect sense that more and more small and mid-sized cities are emulating and implementing scalable versions of similar policy initiatives.

In an article for Citylab, Richard Florida takes a look at some compelling data that reframes the relationship between a city’s size and the economic impact of its cultural sector. Click here to read the full article and you’ll see that Nebraska is creeping close to the national average when we look at the number of workers employed in cultural and creative industries. However, those encouraging statistics aside, you’ll also see that the rate at which our creative industries grow, compared to national averages, is incredibly slow. Why is that? Why aren’t more creative industries considering Nebraska, and Omaha specifically, as a place to set up shop?

Let’s be honest—Omaha will never be New York or Los Angeles. Our history is different; the way the built environment has evolved over time is different; our cultural assets are different; our topography is different. Can acknowledging those differences and appreciating them for what they are make space for new possibilities? What if we shifted perspective to look at Omaha’s historic lack of cultural planning as an advantage? What if we viewed that fact through a lens of potential rather than deficit? Can we frame this moment in the city’s development as an opportunity to collectively organize and build a plan from the ground up? Can we unify Omaha’s creative community to advocate for cross-sector initiatives that boost the city’s economy by implementing innovative arts programs centered in economic and social equity, climate justice, and civic participation?

image: Taylor Hammes

image: Taylor Hammes

To make that a reality, we need to first be able to fully articulate and understand the economic and social impact of working together to secure wide-ranging public and private support for the arts. In an article for the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Eric Friedenwald-Fishman gets to the heart of the matter by saying, “As social entrepreneurs, we have not stepped up as champions because we are not seeing the impacts that arts can have on every issue we care about. For too long we have allowed arts and culture to be treated as a nicety—the first budget cut and the last investment made. In the last 30 years, we have seen our nation’s investment in the arts decline as advocates for the arts have scrambled to communicate relevancy through the frames of educational achievement, creative economy investment, and economic development—these are all true but undersell the power of art.

I have had the opportunity to work on poverty alleviation, educational equity, environmental health, and many other issues. Increasingly, I see that solutions to our most critical problems are not to be found in institutional hierarchy or traditional policy and enforcement models, but rather in collective action, dispersed innovation, and shared responsibility…”

Does he make other points that resonate? Spend some time reading the rest of his article here and add your thoughts to the comments section below.