For a vital economy, think arts

How support of the arts makes Chico a place worth living

The author is chair of the city of Chico’s Arts Commission, co-owner of The Bookstore and Chikoko, and a longtime resident of Chico.

A while ago, my family and I took a summertime road trip to Southern California. On stops along the way, I discovered that despite the abundance of natural beauty in our state, there are many towns and cities that are virtually indistinguishable from each other. What we found were large swaths of concrete, few trees, and strip malls with the same stores—in effect, homogenized blandness. By the end, I was eager to come back, not only because Chico is my hometown but also because it is special.

A community that is desirable to live in—or start a business in or even visit—offers a unique sense of place. As vitally important as public safety, roads and infrastructure are, they are not the things that create a community.

Natural and cultural resources, including the arts, are hugely significant in contributing to not only a high quality of life but also a healthy economy. With the current changes within the city, our all-volunteer Arts Commission is in danger of losing its advocacy of these pursuits.

The Brown Act governs all the city’s boards and commissions. Agendas, minutes and minimal staffing are required for public participation, information and transparency. City staff has assisted our meetings, but no official direction has been given yet by the City Council, and dissolution or suspension is an option before them.

Municipalities all over the country faced with financial hardships are turning to existing resources and innovative thinking in moving their communities toward a positive and productive future. In its May 2013 issue, Western City magazine—the League of California Cities’ publication focusing on the state’s economy—included a great article titled “How the Arts and Cultural Tourism Spur Economic Development.”

Chico should embrace this concept and the efforts of the Arts Commission.

The commission’s work is varied. One of our more significant responsibilities is making recommendations to the City Council about how to distribute city funds to nonprofit arts organizations. Recipients of funding include educators, galleries and theaters, and individuals.

Our city is in transition and our City Council faces some of the most difficult decisions in our history. We need to be solution-driven and innovative; we need to be respectful and speak clearly about what matters to our community. The future of the Arts Commission will be one of the agenda items for the council to consider as soon as Aug. 20. If you have something to say, do it now.