The Wall Street Journal |Smaller cities are designating rundown areas as cultural districts and inviting artists and developers to help lead the way in revitalizing them
Many local arts councils promote art for art’s sake. Now city and state officials are pushing art for economic development’s sake.
While certain American cities, from New York to Santa Fe, have long enjoyed the cultural and economic benefits of thriving local arts communities, many smaller cities in recent years have tried an arts-based urban-renewal strategy by designating rundown neighborhoods as “cultural and arts districts” and inviting artists and developers to help lead the way in their revitalization. Some offer such incentives as tax abatements and credits, though in most cases, the incentives are something other than tax breaks. In Massachusetts, for instance, state officials offer marketing help, including grants of as much as $5,000.
“Creative, high-value people like to be around folks like themselves, forming what is called a ‘creative cluster,’ ” says Travis James, vice president of the economic-development consulting firm TXP Inc., based in Austin, Texas. “From these creative clusters you might get the next Steve Jobs,” Mr. James says. “Arts and culture districts are the vehicle to bring these people together.”