Investing in the arts is good for business

Sacramento’s Creative Edge plan will advance the arts

Maya Wallace is vice chairwoman of the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission and an organizer of Wonk Wednesday.

Maya Wallace is vice chairwoman of the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission and an organizer of Wonk Wednesday.

photo courtesy of maya wallace

Sacramento has been attempting to develop a comprehensive plan to invest in the arts for at least a decade. Unfortunately, these aspirations have been hampered by the lingering effects of the Great Recession, which significantly cut the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission budget.

This decline in funding—including from $700,000 a year for Cultural Arts Awards grants to as little as $311,000 in 2014—occurred as many cities recognized the importance of the arts for economic development and neighborhood revitalization and increased public funding and community engagement. Fortunately over the past two years, Sacramento has taken steps to develop a plan to make the arts and the creative economy an integral part of its economic development approach.

That plan, called Creative Edge, is the result of a six-month community-wide process that brought together artists, creatives, nonprofit organizations, gallery owners, business owners, educators and community members to identify our priorities. Creative Edge identifies six major pillars: Provide arts education for youth, advance cultural equity, invest in the creative economy, invest in artists and creatives, infuse all neighborhoods with arts and culture and increase funding for the arts.

Several of the priorities are getting off the ground, thanks to significant support from the city and the Sacramento Region Community Foundation. In mid-January, we convened nearly 150 arts leaders for a day-long event focused on incorporating cultural equity into arts management, programming, grant distribution and community outreach.

Following a year in which mainstream media embraced diversity, we can see there is economic value in this approach. But I believe the dividends it will pay to our sense of worth, well-being and belonging are far greater. Sacramento leaders often tout our community’s diversity, but investing in cultural equity will help to truly fulfill the promise of inclusion and community empowerment.

We are also making strides on arts education. A consortium with the Sacramento County Office of Education is raising the money to put arts in every school in the county, and has won $1 million in state grants to advance this goal.

While we have momentum, several potential perils loom. The first is leadership; our previous director, Jonathon Glus, left late last year. We need to ensure we have visionary and effective leadership. The second is linking investment in the arts to a thriving creative economy; we need to support artists by connecting them with the business tools to succeed. Third, we need to find the resources to implement the rest of the plan and demonstrate to the community that these dollars are well spent.

While the passage of Measure U in November 2018 offers a major potential resource, there are many compelling, competing interests for those funds and making the case for arts investment above other priorities will be a challenge. However, if the city and community are serious about the arts as an engine for equity and economic empowerment, they need to work to ensure these priorities are supported.