The role of the arts in community revitalization
When re-envisioning cities, does the role of the arts matter?
That’s the question posed by SUNY Poly Associate Professor of Technology Management Dr. Robert Edgell as he stood before an audience at the Sculpture Space Strategic Planning Retreat.
Sculpture Space is a unique organization within North America, supporting sculptors as residency participants and those who continue after their residencies as working artists. The artists-in-residence are provided with the space, equipment, expert technical assistance, and specialized resources available in the Mohawk Valley to make sculpture on a scale that they otherwise might not be able to afford and in an environment conducive to experimentation. Periodically the public is invited to work-in-progress receptions at which the artists discuss their work and careers. Art that is made and first seen in Utica is often exhibited in galleries, museums and sculpture parks worldwide.
While many community agencies often turn their focus strictly to topics of industry, economy, and business development, Dr. Edgell posits that the activities of the arts and culture sector and local economic vitality are connected in numerous ways.
“While it’s commonly understood that artists and performers provide creative expression and entertainment, many scholars have long supported the view that the arts are instrumental for robust economic vitality,” Dr. Edgell says. “Our research reveals that the arts enhance communities’ network dominance, foster shared subjective visions, and imbue individuals with entrepreneurial self-efficacy.”
The American Planning Association, he pointed out to those in attendance, states that arts, culture, and creativity can improve a community’s competitive edge, create a foundation for defining a sense of place, attract new and visiting populations, integrate the visions of community and business leaders, as well as contribute to the development of a skilled workforce.
It’s Dr. Edgell’s belief that the arts have the freedom to create fictional visions of future possibilities that reflect and shape shared social values. Often these become blueprints for channeling the talents of scientists and engineers. He points to the example of devices such as mobile smart phones that not that long ago were only fictional props in works of science fiction.
“Communities rich with the arts attract creative individuals, both artistic and scientific, who seek tolerant, open, supportive cultures. These communities usually develop more relationship links to other communities through these immigrating individuals and thus gain greater network dominance which often yields more exchange and vitality.”
Using Sculpture Space as an example, Dr. Edgell suggested arts organizations can make a difference in community development and economic growth by reinforcing the collective arts institutional field, developing symbols for diverse groups, engaging and building community identity for creatives, enhance movement and attract people to the community, and help existing organizations be more creative and inventive.
“Exposure to the arts and learning to think like designers may imbue individuals with the confidence and process abilities needed to care about their communities, tackle complex social problems, and develop entrepreneurial ventures. So the next time a scene from a play makes you laugh or a sculptural work moves you to tears of joy, please remember all the other benefits your community or city may be gaining.”