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Demonstrating the Arts as a Key Component to the Local Economy

Posted by Chad Barger
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Just like most small to medium-sized metro areas around the country, Harrisburg, PA has not always fully capitalized on the power of its local arts scene. About eighteen months ago the Cultural Enrichment Fund (CEF), the region’s united arts fund, sought to change this.
 
When looking for a community partner, the organization first thought of the local chamber of commerce. As its name states, the Harrisburg Regional Chamber and Capital Region Economic Development Corporation is a blended organization—part chamber of commerce and part economic development corporation. Knowing this fact, CEF had high hopes that they would understand the power of the arts—especially regarding its workforce development benefits.
 
After an initial meeting it was clear that the chamber leadership did understand the value of the arts, but it was not from local advocacy efforts. They knew about the value of the arts from national conferences where topics such as Richard Florida’s book, The Rise of the Creative Class, had been discussed. From these sessions they fully understood that attracting and retaining high-quality talent, versus a singular focus on infrastructure projects such as sports stadiums, iconic buildings, and shopping centers, is a better use of a city’s resources to spur long-term prosperity.
 
From this starting point it was easy for the Cultural Enrichment Fund staff to explain how the arts fit into that picture. Showing how the arts make Central Pennsylvania a better place in which to live, work, and play and explaining that a strong arts community is a key workforce development tool is something that they do every day.
 
The chamber executives were on board, but it was pretty clear that there was a disconnect. While it seemed that most business executives knew about the region’s thriving arts scene, it was not always being used as a tool for employee recruitment and retention by corporate human resources directors. So, CEF proposed partnering with the chamber to co-sponsor an Arts Impact Committee aimed at addressing this disconnect and the chamber quickly signed on.

The Arts Impact Committee assists the chamber in their economic development efforts by working to raise the level of awareness regarding the local impact of the arts on economic development. The committee creates educational offerings and messaging for the chamber’s use regarding the economic impact of the arts as well as key tools to assist member companies with recruiting and retaining talent. Finally, the committee partners with Americans for the Arts and other key groups to ensure that the necessary data is available to show the impact of the arts and cultural sector on our region’s local economy.
 
Since its inception, the committee has launched two key initiatives: the Capital Region Arts Census and ArtsLink.
 
The Capital Region Arts Census was conducted in response to feedback from local human resources professionals that while they knew the region had a strong arts scene, they didn’t have a tool to prove it. The Census was the first comprehensive survey of nonprofit arts organizations and arts related businesses (e.g. galleries) in over 15 years. The end result is an attractive one page listing of arts organizations and a spreadsheet directory—both of which are free community resources now available on the chamber’s website.
 
ArtsLink is a quarterly email newsletter that is a co-publication of the Central Penn Arts Guide and the Harrisburg Regional Chamber. It is dedicated to bringing Central Pennsylvania’s arts and business communities closer together. Each issue contains an informative Q&A with one of the region’s art or business leaders, a travel piece showcasing the beauty of both local and far-flung destinations, and timely position articles on arts happenings within the region.
 
Leading the Arts Impact Committee has also allowed the Cultural Enrichment Fund to strengthen its relationship with the local business journal. This recently allowed them to expand an existing in-kind advertising relationship to including ad placements for Americans for the Arts’ pARTnership Movement. This has further helped to raise the awareness of the arts in the local business community and to bridge the gap between business and the arts.
 
The end lesson has been that business folks really do understand that the arts are a key component to the local economy—they just need a little help to figure out how to leverage them and make the connections. Thankfully thinking creatively and making connections are both items at which arts executives excel!
 
This post is one in a weekly series highlighting The pARTnership Movement, Americans for the Arts’ campaign to reach business leaders with the message that partnering with the arts can build their competitive advantage. Visit our website to find out how both businesses and local arts agencies can get involved!

 

*Originally posted on ARTSblog.

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