Community arts provide engine for development, enrichment


Imagine living in a city and county where each year arts events generate hundreds of dollars of economic impact for every person living there. Now imagine having thousands of arts and cultural events for you and your family to enjoy or participate in. Would you think about moving to a place like that? You do not have to imagine any longer - you live there.

Many people understand that the arts provide invaluable cultural enrichment to a community.

Less well understood is that a community's vibrant arts can help contribute to the local economy, not only from ticket sales, but also dining, shopping and other activities that go along with attending an event or exhibit.

The arts contributed to an overall positive annual economic impact in Whatcom County of $41 million, based on a Vitality Index Study recently distributed by Allied Arts. With about 81,000 residents in Bellingham and another 125,000 people living outside the city in Whatcom County, the arts bring a substantial economic benefit to all our communities.

Still another facet of the arts many people do not fully appreciate is that our county has many artists who manage and run their own successful businesses. They are creative artists but also innovators and entrepreneurs.

Nationally, there's a growing movement that recognizes the power of the arts in creating new cultural destinations, vital neighborhoods and new economies. The arts and artists have been shown to lead in transforming communities with overall positive economic benefits. Generally speaking, where the arts flourish, the economy follows.

And the arts can flourish further when the artists themselves have a stronger background in the business aspects of their enterprises as well as the wonderful creativity they bring to their craft.

Not only will they be more successful; they will draw more visitors to the county through that very success.

This year Western's College of Fine and Performing Arts and College of Business and Economics are launching a collaborative venture called the Bellingham Arts Business Accelerator. The arts business accelerator will seek to contribute to the overall vitality and viability of the arts in Bellingham and surrounding communities by bringing together our shared expertise bridging creativity with sound business practice.

Our pilot offering is an intensive short course titled "Arts Marketing: Developing a Professional Strategy" that will be offered in partnership with Allied Arts in June. The course is designed to guide participants through the creation of a personal strategy for marketing their own work while increasing their own creative focus so they can do more of what artists do: creating the work to enhance the culture that enriches our communities in so many ways.

The College of Fine and Performing Arts and College of Business and Economics both have a long history of fostering the arts and business in our community. By collaborating to form the Bellingham Arts Business Accelerator we intend to keep working together to grow ways to support the creative economy throughout Northwestern Washington State.


Dan Guyette is the dean of the College of Fine and Performing Arts and Brian Burton is the dean of the College of Business and Economics, both at Western Washington University.

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