This article was contributed by Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship mentor, Phil Sindel.
Tourism is highly visible in our regional economy – clearly adding dollars and jobs. Less visible, but just as important are the arts organizations and creative-based businesses that add to our quality of life. Consider this: the non-profit art sector in our region produces $55.8M in revenue and accounts for 2,000 jobs.
Tourism is well funded through taxes, but what about the arts? Spending on the arts here is only $0.15 per person. That’s significantly less than in similar or even smaller towns, such as Wilson, where the per capita spending is much higher.
To raise awareness of the impact of the creative economy, UNCW CIE, the Arts Council of Wilmington and New Hanover County, Cucalorus Foundation, and other stakeholders, convened a creative economy-focused workgroup. The group’s mission is to strengthen SENC’s creative economy and fuel the region’s diverse arts and cultural community. Participants include gallery owners, non-profits, performing arts venues, film producers, individual artists, creative-based startups, and others interested in growing and supporting this important sector of our economy.
With the disruption caused by the pandemic, additional efforts are necessary to preserve our creative economy and secure its future vitality. While overall unemployment had fallen from its pandemic peak to 8.4% in August, unemployment for the arts, design, media, sports and entertainment was 12.7%, more than triple its year-earlier level. Rhonda Bellamy, Executive Director of the Arts Council, states “We’re also concerned about the toll on artists/creatives who are part of the gig economy. Recent research shows that 63% are fully unemployed and will lose an average of $22,000 each in creativity-based income in 2020.”
Whether it’s theatre, symphony, dance, film, or museums, performers and patrons are often in close proximity to each other – definitely not a safe situation during a pandemic. Arts in schools and as extra-curricular activities do not lend themselves to “remote” participation. Despite this, groups like DREAMS Center for Arts Education have been keeping school kids involved. According the organization’s Director, Kevin Blackburn, kits are being distributed for students to do artwork at home, drive through events are providing resources including necessities like food, and a mural on the Northside has recently been completed. Others are getting creative with galleries going online, at home and drive-in movie experiences, and recorded performances. Still, performing arts organizations are struggling to survive.
To create awareness and support, we’re hosting a free public Candidates Forum on October 15, 4-6 p.m. According to Bellamy, “Following the success of our inaugural pre-primary forum, we want to continue the conversation about the impact of the arts on our economy with those who seek elected office."
The forum will include candidates for NHC Commissioner, along with candidates for NC Senate 9 and NC House 18, 19, and 20. As many voices compete for attention during this difficult time, it’s especially important for the candidates to hear from the creative community. As Dan Brawley of Cucalorus notes “the current health crisis threatens to undo decades of progress in establishing a healthy infrastructure for the arts. Talking to candidates about new and imaginative ways to sustain the arts is critical during the election process.”
Register to attend here, or visit www.artscouncilofwilmington.org.
Diane Durance, MPA, is director of UNC Wilmington's Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE). The CIE is a resource for the start-up and early-stage business community to help diversify the local economy with innovative solutions. For more information, visit www.uncw.edu/cie.
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