To accelerate our economic recovery, turn to the arts
The economic shockwave unleashed by COVID-19 is not over. Despite recent job gains, 9.8 million Americans remain without work. Food and rental insecurity persists, and some – especially black, Latin American and Native American families – continue to suffer disproportionate economic distress.
To bounce back from an economic disaster of this magnitude, state and local governments must be inventive and enterprising. They need solutions tailored to communities large and small. They need options to feed small microenterprises as well as large businesses. Policymakers have the opportunity to reseed the scorched earth left by COVID-19 by developing more diverse and resilient economies that offer everyone the opportunity to prosper. The arts can help.
New research shows that the arts can accelerate economic turnarounds for states and local communities. A first of its kind empirical analysis conducted by Douglas Noonan at Indiana University studied the role of the arts in economic recovery after the Great Recession, and data shows that the creative sector has grown faster than the general economy during these years. Unlike conventional industrial supply chains, the arts often develop independently of other sectors, helping to diversify state economies. States with diverse artistic ecosystems (including the performing arts, visual arts, media, design and publishing sub-sectors) experienced greater economic gains after the Great Recession than their less diverse neighbors. Creativity also stimulates labor, rural and tourism development while strengthening civic engagement, making the arts a powerful superfood to enhance economic strength.
We have witnessed the powerful synergies between the arts and the economic recovery in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina. Supporting the return of the cultural economy has enabled the arts to subsequently support the recovery of other economic sectors. There is no example more important than our post-Katrina investments to bring back the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Supporting the festival and promoting it nationally and internationally has reopened restaurants, filled hotels and attracted buyers to merchants. In many ways, the festival reopened the city and brought residents and tourists back. It was a beacon proclaiming to the country and the world that New Orleans was back, open for business and a great place to live, work and play.
Shortly before Katrina, research documented that Louisiana’s arts and culture businesses were a major economic engine, employing 144,000 workers – a solid 7.6 percent of the state’s workforce. We also learned that the cultural economy is growing faster than the economy in general. After the hurricane, we knew that the recovery of arts and culture would be paramount to rekindling the soul of the state and its economy, so we managed to name the cultural industries as one of the top five priority sectors. for early economic recovery investments. The return of the arts and cultural industries spurred a broader economic recovery throughout Louisiana.
These benefits are not unique to New Orleans or Louisiana. Case studies by the Western States Arts Federation show how the arts are revitalizing communities of all kinds, including places that have lost key industries. The arts add a special spark to rural areas, according to the National Association of Governors, by mobilizing local creative assets to stimulate economic growth. And Noonan’s study noted that employment in the arts can boost overall employment even more in rural areas than in urban areas. This is important because rural communities have been slower to recover from past recessions than their urban counterparts and in light of the evidence indicating the disproportionate negative impacts of COVID-19 on rural residents.
As we try to turn the tide towards the pandemic, the arts are strengthening communities from northern New England to the deep south, through the Heartland to the West Mountain. State and local heads can learn from these experiences. After a year of isolation, the arts also have the potential to bring us together. By including the arts in economic development strategies and by investing in the cultural economy, policymakers can help American communities recover from today’s economic shocks and better equip us to withstand the crises we may face. face tomorrow.
Mitch Landrieu, founder and president of E Pluribus Unum, is a former mayor of New Orleans and former lieutenant governor of Louisiana. Pam Breaux, President and CEO of the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, was previously secretary of the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism.
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