UNESCO Creative Cities Meeting in Paducah: "The Arts Mean Business!"

Sep 26, 2017

Credit Matt Markgraf, WKMS

Using arts and culture to drive economic development and urban revitalization was the focus of Tuesday's UNESCO Creative Cities meeting in Paducah. Delegates from eight international cities of Crafts and Folk Art heard local examples of how such investments have paid off.

Americans for the Arts is an arts advocacy organization that released over the summer a nationwide survey determining the economic impact of nonprofit arts organizations. The organization found in 2014, all U.S. arts industries added $730 billion dollars to the overall economy, or 4.2% of the GDP. Vice President of Research and Public Policy Randy Cohen presented the data in the morning meeting. “We’re going to change the conversation of the arts form one of charity to one of industry,” he said.

Cohen said the study found nationally, nonprofit arts and culture are a $166.3 billion industry. Arts organizations spend about $63.8 billion. Combined government (local, state, federal) spending for the arts is about $5 billion, but their total revenue is $27.5 billion. Cohen said it’s a small investment with a big return.

“It doesn’t matter if the arts are happening in small rural communities or large urban cities, there’s a measurable economic impact, measurable benefits, economically, to the communities where the arts are taking place,” he said.

Credit Matt Markgraf, WKMS

The study found nonprofit arts in Paducah is a $27.5 million industry supporting nearly 1,000 jobs. Cohen spoke with WKMS on this topic in July, during a visit to Paducah.

Paducah Bank and Trust CEO and Chairman Joe Frampton detailed the Paducah Lower Town neighborhood revitalization and artist relocation program as an example of a successful public-private partnership. Frampton described the neighborhood as “long ignored” with properties “in a terrible state of repair.” He said the bank bucked “traditional” lending and offered a loan pool for artists, ultimately adding up to a $16 million investment. He said the return on investment, as measured by the city, was 14.4 to 1.

“Through a unique partnership of city government, Paducah Power [System], businesses and private citizens, we improved streets, curbs, sidewalks, lighting and brought these properties back to life. Paducah Bank even built three spec spaces, brand new, on a vacant lot and they were sold to artists,” he said.

Frampton said the neighborhood is a vibrant place for arts and credited the effort as a factor for Paducah becoming a UNESCO-designated city.

Market House Theatre Executive Director Michael Cochran described the space as on the verge of being torn down in the 1960s when an effort launched to turn it into the theatre it is today. He said since then, the space has expanded to include nearby vacant buildings and contributed to other retail and restaurant development that now exists around the space. He said from 1996 to 2016, the theatre has seen a 600% increase in the number of people it serves in the region. He said in 2016, the theatre connected with 45,000 participants and more than 54,000 educational student interactions in a four-state area.

Credit Matt Markgraf, WKMS

Secretary of the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet Don Parkinson said tourism is Kentucky’s third largest industry, behind automobiles and health care. Outlining recent large-scale investments like Amazon’s air hub in northern Kentucky, Braidy Industries (steel and aluminum manufacturing) in eastern Kentucky and Toyota’s expansion in central Kentucky - Parkinson said the employers of those businesses will want their employees to enjoy a certain quality of life, suggesting arts as an ‘absolutely critical’ component of infrastructure.

Parkinson also described the state's tax credit inventive for developing a film industry. He said it's expensive effort for the state. He said more studios need to be built and the industry needs 750 more people working on production to meet demand. He said there have thus far been 136 approved film projects, but only 60 have been made. "We're right at the very beginning," he said.