Turning to Artists to Save the City

"I'm not sure how much work has really been done to see whether there is a firm relationship between arts activity and economic development," said Thomas Lyons, a professor of urban planning at the University of Louisville. "It's a new concept, and has not yet received a high level of scholarly interest."

City officials around the country say they see the connection, though.

In Pawtucket, Weiss said for every three artist who relocate to the city, two new jobs are created for non-artists.

According to the Colorado Business Committee for the Arts, cultural organizations are the 11th largest non-governmental employer in the region. A study done by the group found that the arts generated $1.083 billion in economic impact in 2001, with 9.1 million people attending cultural events.

Denise Montgomery, the director of the Denver Office of Art, Culture and Film, said that at least one company, Level 3 Communications, a communications and information company, relocated to the Denver area because executives believed that it would have a positive effect on their recruiting efforts.

Arts Council of Indianapolis deputy director Greg Charleston pointed to a study by Americans for the Arts that found that nonprofit arts groups account for $294 million in economic activity in Indianapolis alone.

Lyons said there may be some validity to these kind of statistics, but it is not clear, for example, that the money an Indianapolis resident might spend on tickets for the theater and dinner wouldn't have just been spent on something else if there wasn't a play to go see.

"However, I believe the arts has an important role to play in economic revitalization," he said.

In Pawtucket, Weiss said hard numbers don't matter — he knows there has been a change a change in the civic attitude.

"We have seen a vitality coming into our city," he said. "We looked at it as an economic development tool that improves the quality of life for all of our residents."

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