It seems like the arts are finally gaining some traction—the whole country is paying attention to arts as an economic driver.
The National Governors Association just released a great new study that identifies five tactics for using arts, culture, and the creative industry as economic development tools.
They are actually encouraging state governments to include the arts and creative businesses in their economic development strategies, providing new incentives and programs that can help our industry grow and finally be counted for the incredible impact we have on the economy.
Here in Fort Collins, our community has embraced the notion that our community is better because of its arts for years. We have won numerous nationwide awards including Money Magazine’s “Best Places to Live.” The awards are due the incredible quality of life we enjoy—thanks in large part to the many artists and arts organizations who make our whole town buzz with activity and creativity.
Last year, Fort Collins was also awarded the 2011 Governor’s Arts Award by Colorado Creative Industries and the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade that recognizes a Colorado community for their collective efforts to enhance their community and their economy through strategic use of the arts.
What helped set the stage for the Governor’s Award included the Downtown Development Authority’s formulation of Beet Street in 2007 and the adoption of the City of Fort Collins Cultural Plan by the Fort Collins City Council in 2008.
In 2010, Beet Street retooled our organization from the bottom up and created new programs that increased our audiences from 10,000 to 120,000 in just one season. We did this by rethinking how we present arts to our community and always thinking about how to draw attention to the impact that art has on our local economy.
So, in 2010, in the middle of the recession, we created a new summer program that has become a mainstay of Beet Street programming.
Streetmosphere is a 16-weekend summer program that transforms Fort Collins into a spontaneous, outdoor performing arts festival. It provides high quality, free performances that boast civic pride for local, creative talent.
Since 2010, Beet Street has auditioned and hired more than 150 local acts including classical, jazz, country, bluegrass, and pop singers, musicians and bands; dancers, actors, comedians, jugglers, magicians, painters, weavers, and even a cowboy poet. Streetmosphere includes five simultaneous live performances on street corners, public plazas, and alleys in Downtown Fort Collins every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Here’s a picture of a typical corner:
Attendance and excitement about Streetmosphere has grown exponentially—in 2010, 60,000 people stopped and watched performances; in 2011, more than 120,000 residents and visitors participated. Downtown businesses report that the vibrant activity of Streetmosphere has increased foot traffic and sales.
The beauty of this program is that everybody wins—artists, audience, and local businesses. It’s a great example of a program that is designed to measure the “triple bottom line.”
Streetmosphere is funded by local businesses and organizations, through sponsorship and advertising support. Their funds pay the artists and provide marketing for the overall program, so our artists reach a new, large, and diverse audience.
Artists are seeing increased bookings and attendance at performances, artwork sold, new students, and a new appreciation of their talents from people who do not normally choose to include art in their lives. And, our downtown businesses are thrilled—pedestrian traffic and sales are up since the program began. In 2011, we added an internship program that gives students real world experience in event planning, stage management, and marketing.
There’s no question that Streetmosphere is hard work, but its a labor of love and the economic impact is proof of the incredible value of arts.