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Prominent figures on the area’s art scene looked at funding, cooperation and perception on Wednesday.
DON PETERSEN | Special to The Roanoke Times
Panelist David Mickenberg, former president and CEO of the Taubman Museum of Art, makes a point at the Executive Discussion Series on Wednesday. Titled “The Role of the Arts in Economic Development,” the forum was attended by many artists, university faculty and regional officials.
DON PETERSEN | Special to The Roanoke Times
Connie Stevens of public radio station WVTF-FM moderates the Executive Discussion Series on the arts held Wednesday at the Sheraton Roanoke Hotel and Conference Center.
Thursday, May 9, 2013
The regional arts community wants answers.
The questions, articulated with urgency, weren’t new. How does a community sustain the arts financially over the long term, where does the funding come from, who deserves to receive it? How do you battle the perception that arts aren’t essential? Will localities in Roanoke and the New River Valley band together to promote the arts as part of their brand, and if so how?
Wednesday morning, those question were posed to and raised by the five panelists at a roundtable discussion, part of the ongoing Executive Discussion Series co-sponsored by The Roanoke Times and Cox Business. The panel, “The Role of the Arts in Economic Development,” attracted the largest crowd in the two-year history of the series, with about 135 attending the breakfast meeting at the Sheraton Roanoke Hotel and Conference Center.
Moderator Connie Stevens of public radio station WVTF-FM noted that the audience was made up almost entirely of stakeholders: artists, representatives from nonprofits, government officials, university faculty.
The panelists were Roanoke City Manager Chris Morrill; former Taubman Museum of Art CEO and President David Mickenberg; Ruth Waalkes, executive director of the Center for the Arts at Virginia Tech; Amy Moorefield, director of the Eleanor D. Wilson Museum at Hollins University; and Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission Executive Director Wayne Strickland. These heavy hitters didn’t have specific answers to many of the sweeping questions placed on the table, though often they brought up issues of their own.
“I hope this is the beginning of a broader conversation on why we support the arts and what it takes to support the arts,” Mickenberg said.
Strickland cited a 2011 study the commission prepared for the Business Council in Roanoke that showed that art organizations in the Roanoke region receive more funding from local government than the national average and more revenue per capita than five comparable metropolitan statistical areas, including Asheville, N.C.
Morrill built on that foundation: “We are a community that supports the arts.” Roanoke government has continued to provide arts funding despite the economic downturn, he said, and worked to create new grants that encourage arts organizations to collaborate. The city’s arts commission is exploring how the city could create an endowment to help arts and cultural groups cover operating costs.
In the past the city has tended to give funds to capital campaigns. “We’ve realized now we need to focus on sustainability,” he said. “We can’t figure out how much we need to raise until we figure out what the needs are.”
Strickland tossed out a statistic referred to frequently for the remainder of the discussion. According to Americans for the Arts, from 2003 to 2010 a new arts organization was created in the U.S. every three hours.
During the question-and-answer period, Hollins University theater professor Todd Ristau suggested that the rate of new organizations being formed wasn’t a sign of supply outstripping demand, but a sign that larger, more established organizations weren’t meeting the needs of emerging artists, making them feel the need to set off on their own.
Waalkes, the head of a $100 million institution scheduled to open in the fall, said that diversity in the arts is crucial. “We need the local pottery studios,” she said. “We need amateur theater.” She compared the arts to sports, saying the presence of a professional team in a city doesn’t eliminate the community’s need for amateur teams.
Moorefield cited data gathered by Dun and Bradstreet for a 2012 study that said arts-related businesses employ 76,000 in Virginia as further evidence the arts should be regarded as an industry. A board member of the Virginia Commission for the Arts, she described the challenges of making state legislators understand that funding for education should include the arts, and said the arts community needs to be better at communicating what it has to offer.
“What’s the environment that we need to create to ensure that the arts have the maximum economic impact?” Mickenberg said. Afterward, he said that though he himself would have liked more concrete solutions to many of the questions, he hoped that the discussions sparked by the panel will continue.
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