Turning to Artists to Save the City

But what the "creative class" is looking for, according to Florida's thinking, goes beyond galleries, museums and music venues. It's about an attitude in the city — an attitude of tolerance for different lifestyles, diversity in the community and plenty of opportunity for interaction.

"You're talking not only about beret-wearing Marxist poets," Frantz said, "but all age, gender, religious, sexual orientation, ethnic and racial groups."

Austin is in some ways the model for this approach. The city has transformed itself from a town known mostly for its gritty music scene to a burgeoning center for high-tech companies.

"There are many factors that make Austin a great place to live," said Vincent Kitch, the cultural arts program manager for the Austin Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services Office. "But we recognize that the real strength of what brings business and tourists here is the arts."

The methods city governments have adopted to encourage a flourishing arts community range from offering grants to artists working on projects in the city, to real estate and tax breaks, to large grants to cultural organizations.

Artistic Migration

In Pawtucket, R.I., for example, Mayor James Doyle has focused on support for the arts, and in the process has been able to find tenants for long-vacant mills and storefronts. Pawtucket Department of Planning and Development program manager Herb Weiss said hundreds of artists have moved to the city, and that has spurred a rebirth.

A lot of the lure to bring artists to Pawtucket has been low rents on live-work lofts and tax breaks for people creating one-of-a-kind items, whether the are oil paintings or jewelry. Weiss says artists have also responded to the personal touch and assistance he can provide navigating the city's bureaucracy.

"What really sells Pawtucket is word of mouth," he said.

It doesn't hurt that the city of 73,000 is within an hour of Boston and a few hours from New York, and on the fringe of Providence — a town that rates highly in Florida's estimation of the most "creative" cities.

Pawtucket is now trying to get more restaurants to locate in its Arts and Entertainment District, where Stone Soup Coffeehouse, one of the oldest and best known folk music venues in New England, and the Sandra Feinstein-Gamm Theatre relocated after being priced out of the Providence real estate market.

Bigger cities like Indianapolis and Denver have taken a different approach, putting money into the hands of nonprofit cultural organizations that support a range of arts groups, from collectives of artisans to symphonies, ballet and dance companies and theater groups.

Like Indianpolis's Peterson, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper believes that the best way to make the city more attractive to high-tech companies is to raise its cultural profile.

"He's always been active in the arts community," Denver Office of Art, Culture and Film director Denise Montgomery said of the mayor. "He was a leader in downtown revitalization when he opened a restaurant and brew pub in downtown in the late '80s. He's seen how the presence of artists and art galleries make for an attractive community to attract and retain companies and people."

A Real Impact?

The jury is still out, though, on how much effect any of these measures are really having in terms of economic activity.

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