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The arts and community development

As local officials continue to work toward making their hometowns thrive, some have started looking hard at the link between culture and the economy.

Why do we live where we live and why do we stay there?

A report released by the American Planning Association in 2011 entitled, "Economic Vitality: How the arts and culture sector catalyzes economic vitality," outlines four key points to community development through the arts. This article uses South Carolina case studies to illustrate how the arts have enhanced local communities in South Carolina.

Keypoint #1:
Economic development is enhanced by concentrating creativity through both physical density and human capital. By locating firms, artists and cultural facilities together, a multiplier effect can result. Case study: The Salkahatchie Arts Initiative

This is the story of five counties that felt under-recognized: Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Colleton, and Hampton. These counties make up the Salkahatchie region of the state.

Before I-95 opened up in 1968, this region had plenty of cars driving through when people were traveling up and down the Eastern Seaboard. After 1968, the majority of travelers never saw those towns. A visitor driving through this part of South Carolina today may be struck by the abundance of old abandoned hotels.

"This area was particularly hit by the fact that I-95 didn't come through their counties," says Susan DuPlessis of the SC Arts Commission.

According to DuPlessis, by creating the Salkahatchie Arts Initiative, the local communities have mined their existing cultural and natural assets instead of creating something new. The communities are making the region a destination for tourists interested in the arts, heritage and nature-based tourism.

 In 2006, the Salkahatchie Arts Center was created in Allendale. At the center, local artists sell their wares. More than 100 artists have sold almost $200,000 worth of items to date.

Also, there is a storytelling element, according to DuPlessis. Local artists created "Salk Stew," which is a play with music and stories that is updated annually.

Here is an excerpt of a review of "Salk Stew" from an issue of the Hampton County Guardian.

Sure, everybody loves a good classic community theater number like The Sound of Music, but this is a one-of-a-kind classic that you can't get anywhere else: a play based on true stories from real people in our community, stories that are acted out on the historic planks of the Palmetto Theater by local actors. As far as community theater goes, it doesn't get any better than that.

 "These artistic endeavors resonate with local residents about who they are and what they have," DuPlessis said. "These endeavors are part of their authenticity," and they are improving the economy and quality of life in the Salkehatchie Region.

Keypoint #2:
The recognition of a community's arts and culture assets (and the marketing of them) is an important element of economic development. Creatively acknowledging and marketing community assets can attract a strong workforce and successful firms, as well as help sustain a positive quality of life. Case study: Hub City Writers Project, Spartanburg

"Writers are very interested in a sense of place," says Betsy Teter, executive director of the Hub City Writers Project.

In 1995, a small group of writers in Spartanburg asked themselves what they could do to improve their city.

"We created some books that celebrated what was uniquely Spartanburg. To date, we have published more than 500 writers and sold more than 100,000 books," she says.

In 2006, Hub City created an alternative arts initiative called HUB-BUB in a partnership with the City of Spartanburg. Headquartered in a former Nash Rambler car dealership downtown, HUB-BUB offers more than 100 nights a year of art, culture and entertainment, as well as a nationally recognized artists-in-residence program. The mission of that spin-off organization is to build community through dynamic arts and ideas in downtown Spartanburg. The City of Spartanburg provides $120,000 in funding each year to HUB-BUB.

 

HUB BUB, Spartanburg
HUB-BUB in Spartanburg offers more than
100 nights a year of art, culture and entertainment.  

In 2010, the Hub City Writers Project converted an 83-year-old, 5,000 square-foot Masonic temple in downtown Spartanburg into an independent bookstore, coffee shop and a bakery.

"The Hub City Writers Project is at the center of our creative energy in our community in a unique and important way," said Bill Barnet, Spartanburg mayor at the time of the project's launch. "From the energy of that group comes a great deal of pride," he added.

Keypoint #3:
Arts and cultural activities can draw crowds from within and around the community. Increasing the number of visitors as well as enhancing resident participation helps build economic and social capital. Case study: SC Jazz Festival, Cheraw

Cheraw is an older, rural town with a population of 6,000.

Many South Carolinians don't know that Cheraw is the birthplace of jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie. After a Ken Burns PBS special about Gillespie aired in 2001, town officials decided to seize the moment and create a jazz festival honoring him.

"We had already built a statue and created a park in his honor," said Phil Powell, tourism director for the Town of Cheraw. "But we wanted to take this opportunity to educate our community about the arts."

According to Rusty Sox at the SC Arts Commission, planning for the South Carolina Jazz Festival began in 2005 with the first festival held the next year. It was and still is organized by a committee of local residents and staffed by town employees and volunteers. In the second and third years, they received a Cultural Tourism Grant from the SC Arts Commission to help with marketing.

 

Cheraw Jazz
Beginning in 2006, the South Carolina
Jazz Festival is held each year in Cheraw.

Powell encourages other municipalities to not try to do too much out-of-the-gate when planning festivals for their town.

"Jazz works well in hot, local, out-of-the-way places, so it worked well here," he says.

 Lindsay Bennett, who partnered with town officials on the jazz festival and is the executive director of the Cheraw Arts Commission, stressed the importance of getting community buy in.

"Town of Cheraw officials view the event as a cultural tourism experience and continue to provide financial support," she added.

Keypoint #4:
Planners can make deliberate connections between the arts and culture sector and other sectors, such as tourism and manufacturing, to improve economic outcomes by capitalizing on local assets. Case study: Emerald Triangle, Greenwood

"We think we're the perfect example of how investing in the arts brings about community development," explained Anne Craig, executive director of the Arts Center of Greenwood. According to Craig, the Emerald Triangle in Greenwood came to fruition by having all the pieces fall into place.

As with many South Carolina cities, Greenwood's downtown was saturated with office space causing many people to feel like the sidewalks rolled up at 5 p.m.

In 2003, two important things happened. Greenwood officials drafted a master plan for a "clearly defined city center and outdoor gathering space." A major aspect of the plan was to enhance the city's cultural assets to bring people back downtown.

From the plan, a vision for the Emerald Triangle emerged involving three major cultural institutions in downtown Greenwood: the Arts Council of Greenwood County, the Greenwood Community Theatre and the Greenwood Museum. Today, the Emerald Triangle has become a nine-acre triangular shaped area in the heart of Greenwood's downtown business district.

The second important thing that happened in 2003 was the closing of a 30,000 square-foot historic federal building, which housed an old courthouse and post office. A public/private partnership, created by the Greenwood Partnership Alliance, the Self Family Foundation, the Arts Council of Greenwood County and the Greenwood City Council, purchased and renovated the historic federal building.

Greenwood Federal Building
Greenwood Federal Building 

Over the years, the three cultural institutions have experienced a huge increase in tourists. In 2010, the groups attracted about 8,000 tourists. In 2012, the figure rose to more than 18,000. 

Greenwood Tourist Report
Greenwood Tourist Report 

"We had a beautiful building, an excellent leadership team, and a city government with a vision," concluded Craig. "We had the right people at the right time."