AC Panel Recap: Arts & Economic Growth
Last week, we sat down and talked with Film Streams’ Executive Director, Rachel Jacobson; Sarah Moylan, Senior Director of Talent and Workforce at the Omaha Chamber of Commerce; and artist and educator Angie Seykora, to unpack some of the issues surrounding the ways in which individual artists, cultural organizations, and creative industries contribute to Omaha’s economic growth. The wide-ranging discussion, and insights from audience members, helped map some of Omaha’s assets. Affordability, a strong sense of community with plenty of accessible entry points, and a strong culture of philanthropic giving have all worked to position the arts sector as an engine for intellectual, emotional, and economic growth.
Those are great things, so what’s slowing us down? What’s preventing us from initiating more productive partnerships between arts organizations, city government, private industries, and individual artists to support and strengthen that growth? Do we, as individuals, ask ourselves what public good means often enough? If arts and culture enter into that definition as essentials that provide vital public benefit, rather than luxuries only a handful of people can appreciate, are we advocating for policy and electing city officials that stand for those same values? The Riverfront Revitalization Project and Heartland 2050 are a couple of recent examples of planning initiatives, designed to enhance quality of life, from which the voices of artists and cultural organizations were excluded. How do we change that in the future? How do we find a seat at the table?
We know that individual change has to come before systems change. Our panelists underscored the importance of continuing arts education in the form of widely disseminated criticism to enhance public discourse. They questioned the reality of effectively communicating the value of individual artists’ and cultural organizations’ contributions to public life without a significant increase in arts coverage by local media outlets. They also pointed out that the City of Omaha hasn’t established a Department of Cultural Affairs to help build bridges across sectors and guide conversations about initiatives, like the creation of a cultural master plan, that strategically position the arts as a conduit to build social equity, civic engagement, and climate justice.
Despite what many of us would consider hinderances to growth embedded within Omaha’s cultural infrastructure, each of our panelists was hopeful we could affect real change by approaching these issues with collective intentionality as a unified arts sector comprised of individual artists, arts organizations, and creative industries. Identifying our assets, having honest discussions about what we lack, and working to fill in the gaps are the first steps toward developing a city-wide cultural plan that will bolster economic growth, integrate arts and culture as essential components of civic life, and connect the dots between the two. We can make Omaha a more vibrant, vital city but we have to do it together.