Monday, May 02, 2005 | A vibrant arts and culture community is a common thread running through the world’s greatest cities. The arts build community pride, revitalize neighborhoods and provide a sense of uniqueness and identity to communities. They create an environment in which we want to live, work and play.

More than ever, civic leaders recognize the intrinsic value arts and culture bring to an area. As cities reach build-out, residents want more community-based cultural activities and amenities. Leadership in Carlsbad and Chula Vista both are looking 20-50 years ahead in their planning to create local arts and culture districts with performance, exhibit and gallery spaces. Other cities, such as Solana Beach, Encinitas and Poway have formal public art programs, operate performing arts centers or have strived to bring more arts and culture to their communities.

San Diego County has experienced tremendous growth in the past 25 years. This growth fueled the evolution of arts and culture in the region, as many transplants from older metropolitan areas with established reputations for arts and culture institutions moved to San Diego County. The region has spent considerable resources boasting of its great weather, beaches and sports stadiums but not as much effort has gone toward highlighting its cultural amenities.

However, these mostly nonprofit arts and culture organizations have tremendous economic impact on the region. In 2003, local nonprofit arts groups contributed $257 million to the county’s economy, whereas cultural tourists contribute an estimated $210 million annually to the region’s economy. According to the most recently available data from the city of San Diego, the investment of $8.6 million in grants to the arts community returned $116 million in direct expenditures to local businesses and individuals.

Despite their intrinsic value and economic impact, the arts remain a stepchild in our fair region. Music, dance, theatre and cultural institutions all struggle to build audiences and attract support. Contributions and sponsorships from individuals and corporations remain limited to a small, select group. Some government support exists, thanks to the County Board of Supervisors, especially Pam Slater Price, and the city of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture. The Commission, which administers the most generous operational support programs in the region, has experienced budget cuts in the last two fiscal years and the upcoming budget cycle will be another difficult one. California, which spends the least of any state on public funding for the arts, will not make any grants through its anemic California Arts Council, whose budget has been cut to the bone in recent years.

Most of us want arts and culture to be part of our community and want our children and grandchildren to experience the arts. To foster a vital arts and culture community requires many kinds of support: awareness, attendance and financial. One doesn’t have to travel far in San Diego to find a wealth of cultural experiences, we just have to make the effort to experience it.

Stephanie Casenza, MS, APR, is executive director of the San Diego Performing Arts League, the region’s only umbrella organization devoted to promoting and advancing the performing arts by promoting volunteerism in the arts, offering affordable marketing opportunities, community outreach and training resources.

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