Today, The Atlantic Cities brings us two sort-of-conflicting reports on the arts. The first comes from Richard Florida, who points out that while arts alone may not be enough to create growth, aesthetic assets are a community’s “most priceless” components. Florida later concludes.
Pundits will never stop arguing about whether the arts stimulate economic growth or merely benefit from it, but there’s no question that aesthetics are a vital ingredient of a city’s quality of place.
At the same time, however, Emily Badger argues that American cities have built too many cultural institutions. Her main point is that the supply of cultural institutions has exceeded demand.
Badger traces the problem to a number of things, including Florida’s own writing on the creative class, but also notes that demographic trends might also be partially to blame.
The communities that tended to invest in these new arts facilities were often those experiencing population growth with rising rates of education. We also saw during this period a building boom in multiple sectors (although it’s particularly noteworthy that building in the arts grew faster than or on par with building in the health and education sectors).
Among other conclusions, Badger points out that some art institutions might have been wiser to spend their money on programming, rather than brick and mortar facilities.
Though these two articles seem to conflict — “the arts are great” one says, but “we have too many institutions” the other argues — I think Florida’s actually offers reconciliation. Citing Jane Jacobs, he points out that “the inspiration must come from the citizens” when it comes to cultural institutions. The point, then, is that the arts are great assets, but they can’t be relied on by civic leadership to save struggling cities.
So does Provo have too many, to few, or the right number of cultural institutions? I suppose one way to answer that question is to look at ticket sales, though of course the collateral benefits — including long term impacts like the Opera House Effect — of the arts would need to be acknowledged in any economic analysis. But short of undertaking a massive economic study of the arts in Provo, these two articles suggest that the onus to create the community’s most valuable assets lies with the citizens.