“Art is Economic Development!”
I was quoted in the Times of Acadiana saying that in 1997; and it is still true today. Nearly 20 years ago, the National Endowment for the Arts faced drastic reductions, and folks in the arts community were looking for support. They found that support in an unlikely place — the halls of LEDA. Just as I wrote in my September 2011 ABiz column that the highest and best use for the Horse Farm was as a central park, I understand that art as well as our cultural heritage, recreational opportunities and tourism are an integral part of the overall quality of life of our region.
Often I use this column to update you on the economy and the latest economic indicators that influence business decisions; but it’s our quality of life that really sets the region apart, particularly in our business recruitment efforts. Whether Lafayette is named the happiest city or crowned as the best place for food; it’s the intangibles that make our community attractive to business, as well as young professionals and families. That quality of life and joie de vivre is a by-product of a thriving entertainment industry in the region.
It’s undeniable that the entertainment sector — which includes art, culture, recreation, tourism, and retail— is one of the pillars of Lafayette’s economic base along with energy and health care. The burgeoning technology sector forms the fourth pillar. Between 2002 and 2012, the entertainment sector’s GDP grew 62 percent — contributing $2.4 billion to Lafayette’s total GDP in 2012. Domestic visitors spent $461 million in Lafayette Parish in 2013, placing us in the top five parishes in the state. The Louisiana Tourism Forecast for 2014-2017, issued by the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, reports an increase in visitors and spending through 2017. Lafayette’s strong cultural identity is big business.
Leveraging the impact of Lafayette’s unique culture is a key element put forth in the Comprehensive Plan. In fact, the plan advocates for the creation and implementation of a plan to maximize the community’s arts, culture, tourism and recreation assets. I am excited to work with our community team as we create the Lafayette Entertainment and Cultural Plan that will strengthen the entertainment and cultural assets of our community.
Community leaders are already coming together in support of Art + Business = Culture (ABC). The Community Foundation of Acadiana is home to the ABC Art Fund. Randy Haynie was instrumental in pulling together the fund’s board members and advisory board, a Who’s Who among local art advocates. I look forward to working with them as we develop and promote local arts initiatives.
The LEDA board and staff have long been proponents of arts in the community. From collaborations such as Louisiana Crossroads and the Lafayette Entertainment Initiative to simply showcasing artwork by local artists in our office, we actively look for ways to connect art and economic development.
Our most recent art-focused collaboration is ArtSpark, an individual artist stipend program administered by the AcA. The program provides support to Acadiana artists as they expand their portfolios. The difference between this program and others is that selected artists must participate in a “business boot camp.” Through the Opportunity Machine, Lafayette’s business incubator and accelerator, participants learn about the business side of their art. The OM staff presents programs on project budgeting, building a sales funnel and eCommerce and web-based marketing.
ArtSpark encourages the growth of our local artist network and demonstrates our support of community allies, such as the AcA, who are on the front lines of arts promotions. Not only will ArtSpark advance traditional art media, but the program will foster development in new media through an emphasis on live performance, digital interactive, visual arts, music and film.
Artists who were awarded the first round of stipends represent a cross-section of Acadiana’s art community — public art/mixed media, opera, photography, theatre/playwriting, music and puppetry. Plans for a second round of awards are currently being finalized.
Lafayette is a community known for its forward-thinking business and arts leaders. Our entrepreneurial spirit — not just in business, but also the arts — is what makes the region unique and a perfect test bed for innovative collaborations between business and art. Through the continuation of programs such as ArtSpark and the development of a targeted Entertainment and Cultural Plan, Lafayette will continue to be a community filled with world-class art, culture and recreational activities.
Ours is a vibrant community with a strong sense of community and cultural pride. I challenge each of you to show that pride and support local artists, tourist attractions, shops, galleries and museums. LEDA will work closely with LCVC, as well as the AcA, One Acadiana, and LCG (and many more organizations) to address the 30-plus action items related to arts and culture as identified in the Comprehensive Plan. Alone, no single organization could readily tackle these; however, together we can and will accomplish much, as we’ve proven so many times before.
Gregg Gothreaux has been president and CEO of the Lafayette Economic Development Authority since 1995.