The arts and the local economy

The arts can have an impact on the local economy in several ways

  • The arts as a community/personal activity. This can range from what is almost art therapy (the promotion of self esteem etc) to community-based projects – not just the visual arts like murals but also writers and readers groups, choirs, drama etc. In this respect it is no different from any other community activity – cyclists, stamp collectors, railway modellers all get together for their mutual benefit without any call on state support. A study some time ago showed the high levels of skill people in these groups can attain. An even older study showed the wide range of such organisations of which the arts are only a small proportion. All of them add to the strength of the local community and contribute to the non-monetary economy.

  • The arts as employment.  Artists are already in effect small businesses. Their work can have a multiplier effect through the services they use – from foundries and fabrication services to the supply of materials, to so-called ‘third places’. The greater the concentration of activity the greater the potential multiplier. Frome seems a good local example where Catherine Hill has been transformed by arts and media based activity from its previous semi-derelict condition to a thriving collection of businesses, with a knock on effect on the town as a whole.

  • The arts in the environment. While this is usually seen as public art it includes other ways in which the artist can contribute to the public realm.  The pavement treatment of Centenary Square in Birmingham for example or Poetry on the Underground. A local example is the housing scheme in Devizes where two artist-craft workers were effectively given access to the hard works budget.

  • The provision of arts facilities. There are of course many major examples – Tate Modern, Tate St Ives,  the Lowry in Salford, Walsall Art Gallery, @Bristol, The Baltic and Sage in Gateshead. In different ways these have all had significant local impacts. There are many smaller examples such as The Pound in Corsham, Devizes Museum,  arts workshops, theatres, galleries etc with more localised impacts. The creation of artist studio spaces can also have an impact directly or they may follow other activity as in Frome.

  • Art festivals. The biggest example in the UK must be the Edinburgh Festival which has grown enormously from its early beginnings and which has spun off events like the Edinburgh Film Festival. Aldeburgh in Suffolk is home to a large music festival, while Hay on Wye has capitalised on its accidental emergence as a ‘Book Town’ to create a very successful literature festival. In Devizes, Carnival is growing out of its traditional roots to become a much wider celebration and links appear to be developing between Carnival and the Devizes Festival. Other events are appearing like the Comedy Festival and the Food and Drink Festival.

    So how might things grow in Devizes?  There are many artists in the area, some with international reputations. However there is little in the way of gallery space and none of the existing Open Studio events in Wiltshire properly cover the town. There is a Facebook group for Devizes Visual Artists but so far no real discussion about next steps.

  • What do you think?

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