Arts and culture assist in economic development efforts
By Amy Smolik
Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce
Across the country, competition for workers and recruiting new businesses is fierce. One area that can set a community apart is its quality of life opportunities and creative culture.
Best-selling author Richard Florida commissioned a survey asking people why they choose to live in one place over another. The Gallup organization examined their preferences in dozens of community attributes clustered into five major categories: physical and economic security, basic services, leadership, openness and aesthetics. Results showed of the 28,0000 surveyed, all five factors played major roles, but people placed their highest premium upon aesthetics, referring to physical beauty, amenities and cultural offerings.
For economic developers, this research is an important reminder about the role that aesthetics play, said Sioux Falls Development Foundation President Slater Barr.
"Sioux Falls simply must continue to make arts and culture a community priority if we are to be the community of choice for the thousands of workers we need to keep our economy growing," Barr said.
The 2016 SculptureWalk, on display downtown Sioux Falls; image by Paul Schiller. Angel Anchored in the Art Nouveau by Ben Hammond of Utah.
The economic impact of arts and culture on a community can be hard to quantify as some things are free, such as public art. Statistics gleaned from an economic impact study by the Americans for the Arts showed that the city´s four largest arts organizations (Washington Pavilion, South Dakota Symphony, SculptureWalk and Sioux Falls Jazz & Blues Society) generated an estimated $32 million in economic activity, supported 1,192 full-time equivalent jobs, generated $28 million in household income to local residents and delivered $2.8 million in local and state government revenue. An Arts & Economic Prosperity V study will be conducted in the next few months.
But tangible stories point to the importance of a vibrant arts community. When business prospects arrive in Sioux Falls for a site visit, economic development representatives want those visitors to have a positive first impression.
"We drive them from the airport to downtown and often to the Washington Pavilion as fast as we can. We want them to see we have this wonderful unique facility and a fantastic downtown," said Darrin Smith, former Community Development Director for the City of Sioux Falls. "While they´re here we´ll tour the Pavilion, do special events. We´ve had people here from Chicago, Detroit and Kansas City and they were in awe that Sioux Falls, South Dakota has these facilities. We´re so modest here, it hits you when they say those things but it´s sincere. It makes you feel proud."
Arts as a catalyst for growth
It´s a chicken or egg question about what really boosted the Sioux Falls arts scene to grow and develop, particularly in the city´s core.
"Downtown´s biggest strength lies in the fact that it has become the place where artists, musicians, makers and chefs converge and where many choose to open for business," said Brienne Maner, DTSF Communications & Membership Director. "A strong arts community is absolutely essential to the vitality of our core district. It´s what defines us and sets us apart. It´s the reason visitors choose to stop and walk around and ultimately book a night´s stay. It´s part of why people choose to live here, why property is developed and why new businesses open and thrive. Without it, downtown loses much of its draw."
The Washington Pavilion opened in the former Washington High School in 1999, a unique facility incorporating performing arts with a science center, the visual arts, a restaurant and including an education program.
As the City´s former Community Development Director and a former City Councilor, Smith brings a unique perspective on the role of the Pavilion in boosting economic development efforts. He started his new job as the Washington Pavilion President on May 31 and calls the Pavilion a "game-changer" for downtown.
"The Pavilion opening combined with the Loop going away a few short years later led to the real renaissance we´ve experienced in the last 10 years," he said. "It´s only going to compound going forward."
The Washington Pavilion features performing arts with a science center, the visual arts, a restaurant and includes an education program.
SculptureWalk was another catalyst for change in downtown when it started in 2004. At the time, Executive Director Jim Clark, who was then a volunteer, had nothing but trust and faith to carry him forward as he pitched the idea of the SculptureWalk.
"The trust was about all I had, all I could hope for in the beginning when I called on businesses to be sponsors and gave them the concept. I would tell them it´s going to be high-quality - trust me," he said. "I stuck my neck out but I had faith we could get it done and we put the right people together to get it done."
It wouldn´t have taken off without the support of the business community, Clark said, because the business community provided the financial backing. The City also participated financially by matching funds to assist in installation expenses and purchasing the People´s Choice sculpture. For nine years, SculptureWalk was 100 percent volunteer-run. Now Clark is the only full-time employee. Volunteers are a key piece to arts organizations. Clark encourages the business community to consider "adopting" various organizations to help them succeed.
SculptureWalk wanted to try to be the best in the country, Clark said, in order to attract the best talent and to keep them coming back. The first two years had more regional artists and each year more artists from across the country have been added. This year, SculptureWalk is incorporating a SculptureWalk Virtuoso Sculptor certification program as a way for artists to achieve significant recognition for their work. There are financial and professional incentives for the artists to achieve the certification and continue to show in Sioux Falls.
Clark also cited research that indicated that emotional attachments and physical beauty are what bring people to a community, more so than jobs and the economy. The arts and quality of life are what helps make a community vibrant and strengthens the economy, Clark said.
"It´s not just sculptures, though. You look at so many communities that are doing the same thing in developing their downtowns - we´re all trying to attract the same tourists, the same events, the same workers. We´re all competing with each other," Clark said. "Most communities our size have similar amenities so we need to keep improving every year."
Smith also believes the competition between communities is tougher than ever before - for workers as well as the companies coming in to create jobs.
"Competition in economic development has evolved from what it looked like a decade ago. We are competing at a much higher level," Smith said. "I can assure you that if we didn´t have the Pavilion, the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center, SculptureWalk, we would not do as well and would not win as much. We wouldn´t have broken development records like we have the last four years."
Looking to the future
"We need to continue to collaborate with local artists and arts leaders, event facilities and arts organizations to add more public art to downtown, bring in more national talent, create new and improve upon existing events and festivals and provide financial support for the arts, both downtown and in our schools," Maner said.
A new project on the horizon that will bring in talent and new events is Levitt at the Falls, set to open in 2019. The project will present 50 free concerts every year featuring a diverse range of emerging and acclaimed talent. Upon completion, the current entrance to Falls Park, known as Falls Park West, will be transformed into the site of a state-of-the-art outdoor concert venue, spanning from downtown´s 5thÂ Street north to the park.
Jim Clark is the Executive Director of the SculptureWalk, which entered its 12th year in 2016. He´s pictured with "Reaching for the Stars," created by Longhau Xu of Hot Springs, Ark.
Levitt at the Falls is an example of a quality of life project with emphasis on the arts. Often Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce Community Appeals campaigns focus on quality of life projects. The Levitt at the Falls campaign will run Nov. 1, 2016-March 31, 2017. The $1.06 million campaign is part of an overall $4.5 million project. The City has committed $2.5 million to the project and the Levitt Foundation is giving $500,000. The final phase of fundraising, which will be determined based upon remaining need, will wrap up 2017, allowing for construction to begin in 2018 and concerts to launch in 2019.
The Levitt Foundation, which has created permanent Levitt venues in larger cities, chose Sioux Falls because of its potential. Typically, cities chosen are at least 400,000 in population to ensure they are financially sustainable and have an audience base.
However, the more the Levitt Foundation learned about Sioux Falls and its growth trajectory, the more Sioux Falls looked like an ideal match. Falls Park West has hosted a variety of successful annual events in the past decade, pointing to its tremendous promise as a place for more consistent programming.
The Levitt at the Falls partnership between Sioux Falls´ public and private sectors adds further vitality to the downtown core and will serve as an ongoing community destination that will attract people from throughout the city and the region. The Sioux Falls City Council approved the public/private partnership to build and sustain Levitt at the Falls.
The Sioux Falls State Theatre is also seeing a renewed push to be completed. Consultant Don Hirsch, who specializes in theatre design and development, recently conducted four focus groups to help move a plan to reopen forward. Focus group participants discussed questions such as: What can the State Theatre be/what can it do? What are the challenges? Who are the stakeholders? What kind of things can happen in the theatre/what kind of programs can it offer?
The State Theatre Board of Directors will then use this information to further develop a plan. The State Theatre held a successful Chamber Community Appeals campaign in 2013, raising more than $2.3 million and surpassing its goal. Using those funds, the bones of the building were repaired - the lobby, foyer, main level restrooms and basement renovations.
Volunteer leaders are confident that a plan of action will boost efforts to finish the 90-year-old theater, which closed in 1990.
"We are going to get it done. We have a strong history and passionate people who know what they´re doing," said Board President John Swedeen. "We have an incredibly compelling story to tell."
Downtown is a popular place to be on First Fridays, The East Bank Block Party features lives music and food vendors. Photo by Reistroffer Design.
The arts and culture is a big part of quality of life for a lot of people, Smith said.
"It´s a quality of life issue. That goes back to growing your population, growing your tax base, growing your workforce. People more than ever before are making their decision on where they´re going to live and have their career based on quality of life," Smith said. "Whether it´s the Pavilion, Denny Sanford PREMIER Center, Sanford Sports Complex, the new Midco Aquatic Center, I could go on and on – the City supports in different ways. If a community doesn´t have this type of quality of life aspects, it won´t grow and thrive or people won´t live there."
Smith said that while growth of the community is important, arts and culture also helps retain the people who already live here.
"If Sioux Falls didn´t have the Washington Pavilion or didn´t have the Events Center, many wouldn´t have stayed here or moved back," he said.
For those who sell the city, aesthetics will continue to play a role in the future, with arts and culture remaining a huge part of the community´s sales pitch.
"Arts and culture have always been an important part of the CVB selling the Sioux Falls experience," said CVB Executive Director Teri Schmidt. "Whether we are selling to a convention, event, bus tour group or corporate traveler, we talk about the wonderful arts and culture in our community."
Schmidt said attractions and arts organizations like the Washington Pavilion, SculptureWalk, JazzFest and the Symphony, along with so many others, are part of the fabric of the community - for both visitors and residents.
"The community continually strives to grow arts and culture – it´s part of the magic of Sioux Falls," she said.
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