Nov 30, 2011
Emily McMackin
Emily McMackin
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Arts and Culture: Key to Attracting Investment, Talent

Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, Texas.

From highbrow museums and swanky theaters to ethnic restaurants and hipster coffee shops, artistic and cultural amenities are taking center stage in economic development. And in many cities, they are playing a starring role in romancing the site selectors and corporate relocation professionals who court them.

Along with spurring urban growth and revitalization, the arts have substantial sway in bringing top talent to cities. More CEOs are being drawn to communities with vibrant arts and culture scenes — and not just for their own enjoyment and entertainment. They know these amenities are key to recruiting and retaining the best and the brightest workers.

University of Minnesota economist Ann Markusen calls this asset the “artistic dividend” — and there is plenty of sociological research to back it up, says Richard Florida, author of “The Rise of the Creative Class.” Florida’s research shows how artistic and creative movements that spring up from the streets make cities more energetic, diverse and attractive.

But do cities have to be wealthy to boast a bustling arts and culture scene? Not at all, says Florida, who cites a study in the journal Labour Economics, which documents the effect of trendy 17th- and 18th-century Baroque opera houses in German villages of varying socioeconomic levels on building the skilled bourgeoisie class that powered the Industrial Revolution.

University of Michigan economist Frederick Wherry witnessed the power of the arts firsthand after visiting Philadelphia’s infamous “Badlands” and observing how a group of artists and galleries had transformed the crime-ridden, downtrodden neighborhood into a nationally known arts district. Along with drawing more businesses, the infusion of the arts in the barrio led to investment in better infrastructure and recognition from tourists who traveled to that section of Philly on purpose, says Wherry, who describes his visit in this video.

An emphasis on arts and culture helped Fort Worth, Texas shift its reputation from an Old West cowtown to a sophisticated, progressive city with a world-class performance hall and five major museums that draw 1.5 million visitors a year. The city is also home to more than a dozen urban villages with diverse shops, restaurants, and arts and entertainment venues that are becoming a magnet for artisans and young professionals.

Another city gaining attention for its cultural scene is Wichita, Kansas. With more than 30 galleries and museums and plenty of live theater and music options, it’s easy for international companies like Koch Industries to persuade top talent to move to Wichita.

What role does arts and culture play in your community? Share your stories below.

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