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Art $mart

By Cece Nunn, posted Oct 6, 2017
Rhonda Bellamy, executive director of the Arts Council of Wilmington/New Hanover, is shown in the council’s North Front Street office and gallery. The council is one of the presenters of the Wilmington Arts Summit, Oct. 6-7. (Photo by Chris Brehmer)
A booming arts industry can be key to a city’s growth, arts and economic leaders say.

“It’s not just the direct economic impact – while that is certainly important, the jobs that come from there – but it’s also the value that having the arts community plays in business recruitment,” said Natalie English, president and CEO of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce. “When executives are looking for locations to either relocate or expand a business, all kinds of factors play into the decision, and having a vibrant arts scene is important to some. To remain on the list we need to continually be nurturing our arts community.”

It can also be a major factor for people deciding where they want to buy homes or settle down.

“Ultimately, it makes our city more livable,” said Rhonda Bellamy, executive director of the Arts Council of Wilmington/New Hanover County. “And you know, there’s a train of thought that people decide if they can live somewhere before they decide if they can work somewhere, and I think that the arts help seal the deal for many people. When you come into a city with as vibrant an arts community as we have here in Wilmington, people want to buy into that energy; they want to feed off of that energy.”

A major indicator of that energy is the upcoming Wilmington Arts Summit. In its second year, the networking and professional development event takes place Oct. 6-7 at the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Cultural Arts Building.

The summit will include workshops for arts organizations, businesses and individual artists.

The summit came about after the arts council hosted the Ears on Artists Listening Tour in Wilmington in 2015.

“We had three different sessions: one with business and elected officials, another with individual artists of all disciplines and then with arts leaders who run organizations,” Bellamy said. “What we got out of all of that was the fact that they were looking for opportunities to network and looking for professional development. They had questions about things. You have to imagine, particularly with marketing, so much has changed in the past two years, let alone five years or 10 years, and as we work to establish the region as an arts destination we need all of our players performing optimally in terms of the business management end of things.”

When the first Wilmington Arts Summit was held at Cape Fear Community College in April last year, 250 people attended, Bellamy said, a number that surprised and pleased organizers.

2017 Wilmington Arts Summit

When and where: Oct. 6-7 in the University of North Carolina Wilmington Cultural Arts Building

Cost: Registration is $25 and covers all professional development sessions as well as lunch Oct. 7

Highlights: Professional development and capacity-building seminars for arts organizations and individual artists of all disciplines. Other highlights include a toast to the N.C. Arts Council’s 50th anniversary with NCAC Executive Director Wayne Martin at the Oct. 6 reception; announcement of 2017-18 Grassroots Arts Program grant winners; a chance to meet Arts North Carolina’s new executive director, Nate McGaha; and a keynote speech by Eleanor Oakley, president and CEO of United Arts Council in Raleigh, during lunch Oct. 7.

Hosts: The summit is presented by the Arts Council of Wilmington/NHC, in association with UNCW and QENO (Quality Enhancement for Nonprofit Organizations).

More info and a schedule of seminars: Visit or call 343-0998.

This year’s keynote lunch speaker will be Eleanor Oakley, president and CEO of Raleigh’s United Arts Council. Oakley will talk about the impact a major festival has had on the state’s capitol city. For five years, the International Bluegrass Music Association’s World of Bluegrass festival has been held in Raleigh, and the event, lured to Raleigh from Nashville, Tennessee, has an economic impact of more than $10 million on the city each year.

“But it didn’t happen by accident,” Oakley said in a recent interview. “And there was absolutely huge planning that went into all of this and it was a large-scale, across-the-board effort. It was by no means one group, one person; it just didn’t work that way.”

Teamwork has been and will continue to be key for putting cities like Wilmington on the map as arts destinations, Oakley and others said.

In June, city and county officials and the arts council unveiled the results of New Hanover County’s latest Arts & Economic Prosperity report, which showed that the nonprofit arts and culture industry generates $55.8 million in overall economic activity and supports 2,076 jobs annually. The research was performed by Americans for the Arts, a national nonprofit, and showed that nonprofit arts and culture organizations spent $14.8 million in the county during the 2015 fiscal year, and $44.1 million was generated in household income.

Bellamy said the total dollar amount showed a more than $30 million increase from the last time the impact was studied, in 2012, likely due in part to a more than 20 percent higher response rate to the survey. But the amount is also probably much higher, she said, because many of the area’s arts organizations are for-profit entities, including galleries and theaters.

“When you factor that into the mix, we’re probably talking about an economic impact of $100 million easily,” Bellamy said.

The Wilmington area’s arts community continues to attract more dollars and attention. The N.C. Presenters Consortium’s annual meeting was held in June this year at CFCC’s Wilson Center, a nearly 1,600-seat major performing arts venue that opened last year. Nearly 75,500 people attended performances there last year, coming from all 100 counties in North Carolina, all 50 states in the U.S., and England, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, Scotland, France, Guam, Australia and the Virgin Islands, said Wilson Center director Shane Fernando earlier this year.

Bellamy and others credit the Wilson Center, paid for with $41 million in bonds approved by voters in 2008 and another $4 million from a capital campaign, with helping to attract more arts and development interest in downtown Wilmington.

Arts attractions have been a draw historically, for visitors and businesses.

“The arts have been a cornerstone of WDI’s economic development strategy for revitalizing downtown,” said Ed Wolverton, president and CEO of Wilmington Downtown Inc. “There is a great mix of theatrical venues along with galleries and other spaces dedicated to the visual arts.”

Bellamy said places like Thalian Hall and Cameron Art Museum have brought people in over the years and still do. But having a performance venue the size of Wilson Center –
“That has just has taken us up to a whole other level,” she said.

On top of ongoing Wilson Center attendees, tourists who visit area attractions and arts businesses and the N.C. Presenters Consortium meeting, the area will be welcoming more groups of arts professionals this fall for state-level events.

The N.C. Writers Network 2017 Fall Conference will be held Nov. 3-5 at the Holiday Inn Resort in Wrightsville Beach. And Bellamy said the N.C. Art Education Association’s professional development conference, to be held Oct. 26-29 at the Wilmington Convention Center, is expected to have 500 attendees.

That’s in addition to the daily events in the region.

“There’s not a day that goes by that there’s not something going on,” Bellamy said.
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