Art as a driver of growth is a frequent topic on this blog, but the Huffington Post recently reported on a particularly edgy and successful example of this phenomenon. Apparently, Nantes, France, was an old but dying shipping and manufacturing center. Much as has been the case across the U.S., the loss of the city’s blue collar industries was killing the Nantes. Then, the mayor decided to try a new approach:
But its new young mayor had a crazy idea: invest in art. And not just pretty things, but edgy, troubling, strange art works. And don’t just put them in museums. Plant them outdoors where everybody would stare at them and have to get used to the idea of Contemporary Art.
Now, Nantes is the hot spot in the European art world, a middling-sized city re-thought, re-imagined, re-built on the notion that public art is a smart investment that promotes itself as France’s most “bizarre” city.
Nantes now has a 42 million euro tourist market, and the article goes over in some detail the many cutting edge installations that are scattered around the city.
Nantes’ example shows that art isn’t just for rich, mega cities like New York or London. In fact one of the people behind the city’s revitalization summed it up nicely: “Art is an investment, not a luxury.” And Nantes is investing heavily:
Consistently Nantes puts 15 to 20 percent of its budget into public art. Now, says Blaise with a twinkle, “We have created a truly ville bizarre.”
There have been doubters about that strategy, but the articles suggests that they so far have been proven wrong:
So far, however, the mixture of serious art created by world-class artists, many from China and Japan, seems to have been proved a solid formula for rebirth. It’s university is the nation’s second largest, and it steadily outpaces all other French towns as the place young people want to move into. Or as the former mayor and now Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said in his parting speech to the town last week, “France cannot change without culture, without its artists. During this economic crisis culture is not a luxury. It is essential.”
Provo isn’t as far gone as Nantes once was — or gone at all, for that matter — but the point is that growth is often founded on cultural and artistic vibrancy. In some cities — like New York or Paris — where those attractions already exist, it can be easy to take them for granted or even assume that they’re merely incidental to success.
But as Nantes shows, it’s possible to create success out of nothing by cultivating the arts.