Note: I always enjoy writing when my professional interests can overlap with personal passions. This article appeared in the August issue of Midlands Anchor.
What are the building blocks of a great community? The quick answer
might be money, political will or progressive leadership. Certainly
these elements are important. But in most cases, real community boils
down to trust, connections and relationships.
The arts and culture environment in a community can be a driving
force in establishing and cultivating these connections. Communities
that invest in a flourishing arts and culture scene are the communities
that thrive across demographic and geographic lines in good times and in
challenging times. These connections build the social capital necessary
to create the community engagement that drives economic growth.
Just as a business needs an ongoing investment of financial capital
to be successful and grow, a community needs an ongoing investment of
social capital to be successful and grow. This social capital results
from the connections, relationships and trust built across all sectors
of the community.
Community development expert Peter Kageyama, author of “For the Love
of Cities: The Love Affair Between People and Their Places,” recently
spoke about the power of social capital and connections at a statewide
Municipal Association of South Carolina conference. He expanded this
idea of investing in social capital as a way to build community and spur
economic growth. Kageyama pointed to investing in things like beauty,
art and great design as a way to build social capital.
There is a “strong correlation between peoples’ emotional attachment
to the communities they live in, and higher levels of local GDP,”
Kageyama writes. His book focuses on how places flourish when they are
loved by the people who live there. However, he notes this key idea is
often missing in planning and budgeting processes. A community’s
“emotional infrastructure” like cultural events, beautification programs
and interactive public art are just as important as sidewalks, sewer
pipes and traffic lights.
Kageyama adds that people often point to “a comfortable place to
people watch, a favorite street corner, a local dog park, a street
festival or outdoor movies in the park” as things they love about where
they live. This investment in emotional infrastructure can’t be
overlooked because it creates attachment, satisfaction and belonging
among people. These characteristics lead to social capital that
encourages economic growth.
We see this idea in action all over the Midlands – the idea of
consciously making the investment of social capital through arts and
culture to make our community a unique and welcoming place where people
want to live and businesses want to locate.
A 2011 American Planning Association report entitled “Economic
Vitality: How the Arts and Culture Sector Catalyzes Economic Vitality”
outlines key points that help build social capital and encourage
economic and community development through the arts and culture. The
Midlands area is clearly on the right track based on these findings.
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
Columbia’s downtown is increasingly becoming a mecca for creativity.
First Thursday, the Soda City Market, the Nickelodeon, the Columbia
Museum of Art and Tapp’s Art Center are just a few examples of how the
arts and culture in many forms can bring diverse people together to
share common interests. Columbia’s Main Street also houses the
headquarters of the SC Chapter of the American Institute of Architect.
Add to these cultural spaces increased housing and commercial
activity in Columbia’s downtown, and you’ve got a formula for success.
These encourage a cause and effect cycle where a strong arts presence
draws businesses and people while a concentration of businesses and
people will support an arts presence.
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.
The Midlands area is full of creative and collaborative examples of
marketing community arts and cultural assets. While the Vista has long
been considered an arts district, the area was recently declared an
official “cultural district” by the South Carolina Arts Commission. This
title gives the area increased visibility as a center of cultural,
artistic and economic activity. The West Columbia and Cayce joint
efforts to market the Riverwalk has been part of the catalyst for
residential and business growth in nearby areas.
West Columbia’s Meeting Street corridor is transforming itself into a
cluster of diverse retail, commercial, arts and food venues. One Columbia is promoting the city’s arts, culture and historic treasures.
A new cultural asset taking hold in the Midlands is the beer industry
fostered by the craft beer movement. The Midlands isn’t being left
behind in following this trend to market local breweries and brew pubs
as a destination and cultural attraction.
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
It’s a given these days that Midlands arts and cultural events and
venues are attracting an increasing number of residents and visitors
Events as diverse as Artista Vista, Cayce Festival of the Arts, Girls
Rock Music Camp, Blowfish and Firefly baseball, lake activities, local
theater productions and Colonial Center concerts are only a small sample
of diverse arts events drawing locals and tourists each year.
The Midlands social capital bank account is growing…thanks in large
part to a strong belief in arts and culture as a path to economic growth
for the entire community.