Where are the arts?

BAT attended a Soundside Alliance meeting. The Alliance mission is:

The Soundside Alliance partners work together to promote economic development dollar-signthrough programs dedicated to increasing job opportunities and income for Southwest King County residents and stimulating quality business investment and real estate development in the Southwest King County area. The Soundside presents a collective approach to improving the area’s economy. By collaborating on economic development goals, this cooperative approach to economic development could serve as a model transferable to other policy areas.

It was interesting on many levels. There were movers and shakers of the South End, now the Soundside there. Many many suits. The conversations were about economic growth and economic development for five cities, Burien, SeaTac, Des Moines, Normandy Park, and Tukwila The meeting started at 7:30 am. For theater folk, that is the middle of the night.

What was most interesting was that BAT was the only arts organization with a representative present. Why was that?

This is a mistake arts groups often make, especially smaller arts groups. If you don’t show up to meetings about economic development, you can’t get a seat at the table. If you are not at the table, your voice is not heard.

Not surprisingly, none of the people on stage spoke about the economic benefits of the arts. The business press was there and no one on the panel pointed out how important arts are to economic growth. The panels spoke of tourism, but no one pointed out arts tourists, by and large, spend the most per person of any tourist. If your city wants growth, it needs the arts. (Arts impact in Seattle.) But at this meeting of the Soundside Alliance it was all about stores, warehouses and housing as a way to drive the economy.

Not that long ago I was on the board of  a fringe theater group in Seattle.  To me it was about the art.  But our managing director understood.  He would go to, and often take me to business meetings.  At first, I thought it was to court donors.  But it was more than that.  It was about education.  Educating those who would make the decisions that art was more than a luxury, it was a way to drive economic growth; a way to make the city prosperous.  Educating those who make the decisions that they would prosper, if they supported the arts.

If you are an arts organization and you turn a blind eye to economic development issues it is to assure that your organization will be performing in an empty basement or other substandard location for much longer than necessary, and that your city will lag behind those that invest in arts to reap its rewards.

If you work in the arts and want anyone to see what you do, you must get involved in the local and regional politics and show up at development meetings. If you are not at the party, you can’t sit at the table.

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