The linked article, “How the Arts and Culture Sector Catalyzes Economic Vitality” makes fascinating observations on how cities are beginning to forge alliances between business and the arts, linking economy and culture in a way that attracts more visitors and enhances the quality of life.
BCC also addresses these issues which I summarize below in relation to the following key points:
Keypoint #1: Economic development is enhanced by concentrating creativity through both physical density and human capital
While this points to examples in large urban areas in which businesses collaborated to renovate old structures for the specific purpose of stimulating art oriented and creative businesses, Belfast has the advantage of a small downtown area filled with attractive historical buildings, many of which are already inhabited by galleries and studios. Nearly all the art related venues are located within this compact downtown area, and those that are not are easily walkable. BCC has taken advantage of this situation by unifying and coordinating the myriad participants in the Belfast Art Scene on their web site so that they are better able to communicate and develop strategies, such as art walks and festivals, to promote arts and culture in an efficient manner.
It is collaborative in every sense of the world and an inspiring example of gathering the talents of many people in art, crafts, and business, for the benefit of the town and its citizens, and is accomplished in a grass roots democratic fashion.
Keypoint #2: The recognition of a community’s arts and culture assets is an important element of economic development
One of the examples given is the town of Taos, New Mexico, which I can speak about from personal experience, having lived there for some time. Taos has incorporated its Hispanic and Native American heritage into its art celebrations, along with the Rio Grande and surrounding wilderness areas as sources of inspiration and pride.
BCC has likewise singled out the crucial roles that farmers, fishermen, and lobstermen have had and continue to have in the area’s economy and well-being. Maine Farmland Trust highlights the synergy of local food movement and art through its ‘farm to gallery’ food tastings, celebrating agriculture through art.
Cultivate is a free, open studio and farm tour with special workshops and demonstrations. Waldo County posseses a unique combination of farmers and artists: the farmers craft fiddles and create original woodcuts and paintings, while the artists are raising sheep, making cheese, harvesting crops and processing food
Local Contra dances and Celtic celebrations are testaments to the local heritage of various ethnic groups in the Mid Coast area.
Keypoint #3: Arts and cultural activities in an area can draw crowds from within and around the community
Many groups allied with BCC have made great strides in transforming Belfast from its former industry oriented atmosphere into a vibrant city that continues to elevate the accomplishments of its artists and craftspeople, its intimate links to the sea and the landscape, by filling the calendar year with art and music festivals, art walks and gallery openings, readings by poets and authors, and a lively local theater scene.
A visitor walking through town will be surprised when they sit down for a rest and notice that the bench is itself a work of art, a public art project coordinated by Our Town Belfast, our downtown organization.
An old railroad track has been transformed into a walking path along the beautiful Passagassawakeag River, thanks to the efforts of Waldo County Trails Coalition. http://www.waldotrails.org/
A project of recognizing certain streets or corridors to the water that date to Colonial times, known as “rangeways”, was started some years ago and continues its important work of providing local access to the water for the citizens of Belfast.
Keypoint #4: Planners can make deliberate connections between the arts and culture sector and other sectors
One of BCC’s main functions is to promote collaborations between tourism, historical, environmental, and arts organizations. This can only be accomplished when many talented people, nearly all volunteers, contribute their skills in order to recognize and incorporate the diverse people, places, and things that make Belfast an attractive destination.
The previously untapped economic potential of the region’s numerous small farms that are a model for the nation in their focus on quality of product and sustainability of the land, has become a focal point, as already mentioned, in various art related events. Belfast Area Farm and Art Fall Tour takes place on Columbus Day weekend . The tour includes open studios, farm tours and special workshops and demonstrations. Visitors are encouraged to bring their families and visit artists’ working in their studios, see a glass blowing demonstration or learn how to make jewelry.
Initial funding from the Maine Arts Commission made it possible for local arts, municipal, educational, business and cultural organizations to form a coalition which has a “strong commitment to inter-sector collaboration”, which enables building collaborative partnerships across diverse disciplines.
A local videographer contributes his time to showing a collage of gallery art on the local cable channel.
All the above is indicative of a shift in the economic development of urban areas that takes into consideration the idea of human capital, which includes the skills, knowledge, and ideas of a town’s residents. BCC recognizes creativity as a viable force in driving economic growth and diversity that reaffirms the value of the arts and indigenous culture.
BCC promotes the collaboration of its creatives, businesses, nonprofits and general citizenry into a powerful confederation with the goals of enhancing the quality of life in Belfast, and in so doing, boost its economic vitality for the benefit of the artist, craftsman, farmer, fisherman, and all citizens of this very special region.
Staff Writer for the Belfast Creative Coalition and author of Callie’s Revolution.