CNCounty News

D.C. arts advocate to counties: ‘Recognize your superpower’

Aaron Myers, executive director, D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, speaks Saturday to members of the NACo Arts & Culture Commission. To his right is Montgomery County, Ohio Commissioner Debbie Lieberman.  Photo by Leon Lawrence III

Aaron Myers grew up in Navarro County, Texas, “population 312,” at the time he was growing up there. 

“It was a former sharecropping community, 14 miles from the ‘big city’ of Corsicana,” he told members of the NACo Arts & Culture Commission meeting Sunday at the NACo Legislative Conference.

As small as his town was, he said he felt the community supported young people and had platforms for artists.

Today, as executive director of the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, Myers said county officials have to take a good look at their counties and tell their story, at least partly, with statistics. “Who are we? We do not have adequate data. We’re too anecdotal. We need more numbers.”

Numbers are important when it comes to getting funding for the arts for your community, he noted. 

A recent Arts and Economic Prosperity 6 Study found that in 2022, nonprofit arts and culture organizations and their audiences generated $151.7 billion in economic activity, said Jay Dick, senior director of state and local government affairs for Americans for the Arts

That was $73.3 billion in spending by arts organizations, which leveraged an additional $78.4 billion in event-related spending by their audiences. That economic activity supported 2.6 million jobs and generated $29.1 billion in tax revenue. 

Myers said it’s important, in order to expand the arts and its economic impact locally, to find new demographics. For the performing arts, Myers asked “How many have heard that ‘Audiences aren’t coming back’? He noted that oftentimes, arts organizations are not reaching out to new audiences and are “only advertising to their subscribers,” he said. “They need to market to all, to reach new audiences.”

Another way that counties can expand art and its economic impact in their communities is to look at physical outdoor spaces where large artwork can be featured. “I was recently in Santa Fe. I was completely blown away by the art that was there. We all have the opportunity to show off space we have for public art. And we don’t have to limit ourselves to local artists.”

Public art can be part of the gateway to your county, he suggested, at transportation hubs — airports, railroad stations and seaports. 

If your county does not have a lot of public land to spare for a large outdoor sculpture for example, he said counties can consider creating a public-private partnership with a landholder.

Another “blank canvas”? “Look at the side of your buildings,” he said, where counties can engage local artists to paint murals there. Roadway roundabouts are another ideal space for art, especially for vertical sculptures, he added. 

Stakeholder meetings with arts organizations and the community are important, to find out — “what do people want? Tell your story. Use art to show who you are as a county,” he said.

Oftentimes, Myers said, artists and entertainers might leave a county for larger cities. Counties can identify those artists and “bring them home” by showcasing their art.




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