Arts and culture are often viewed
as ornaments, not as essentials of public life in Connecticut.
And that's the problem.
"How do we make the point that the arts ... aren't merely nice to
have, but [are] `must haves' in our society?" asked Kenneth R. Kahn,
executive director of the Greater Hartford Arts Council, addressing
a group of 75 arts advocates at the Mark Twain House Museum Tuesday.
Kahn's question launched a discussion
titled "Arts & Heritage:
Climbing to the Top of the Urban Agenda," sponsored by the MetLife
Foundation, part of the Arts and Business Council of Americans
for the Arts' National Arts Forum Series.
Some of the presentations focused on an historical overview of Hartford
and the role of art and architecture in civic life, but much of it focused
on economic realities.
Specifically, how can a municipality get the money that would spur growth
and development of the arts industry. Two speakers, both from New York City,
spoke of their respective organizations' successes in obtaining public money
and putting it to use.
Harvey Lichtenstein, director of the
Brooklyn Academy of Music Local Development Corporation, spoke of the
transformation of his organization from a $650,000 institution in 1967
to a $25 million institution today. His goal throughout was "to develop a district that would be supportive of the cultural
life in Brooklyn," he said.
So, beginning with first $17 million from the city and then an additional
$50 million from the city, Lichtenstein and his team built cinemas, expanded
programming and, eventually, attracted artists. In short, the arts can drive
the economy, he said.
"What is happening in New York -- and it's happening in Harlem, and
it's happening in Long Island City in Queens, and it's happening in the
Bronx -- is that there's a real spread of artists which tends to bring developers
in for all kinds of activities," he said.
Maurine Knighton, senior vice president for program and nonprofit investment
at the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone, spoke of methods to both help arts
institutions and inspire economic development. Her organization's goal is
broader -- to have arts organizations become self-sustaining.
"Although many of our partners approach this from a real estate deal
perspective, sometimes real estate may be involved, and sometimes it may
not," Knighton said.
But her organization, like Lichtenstein's, began cash strong -- $100 million
from the federal government, $100 million from the city and $100 million
from the state, she said. And the sense in the room Tuesday was that such
amounts of money are not available in Connecticut.
"How do you get bottom-line-driven people in the public sector to
understand that supporting the arts is an integral component in creating
economic development?" asked David G. Woods, dean of the University
of Connecticut School of Fine Arts and the event's moderator.
Andrew Walsh, an historian and Trinity College visiting assistant professor
of religion, responded that public sector financing cannot be the only answer,
and that good economic times will bring good times for arts institutions.
"Going to the government appears to work well in New York City," he
said to laughter. "But the real issues really are about patronage and
what kinds of communities support art and architecture."
Knighton said the answer in New York
has been persistence. "Repetition
breeds retention," she said, saying she makes her case to legislators
early and often.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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