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When Working Together is as Important as the Work (from The pARTnership Movement)

Wayne Andrews

Where we live is important to each of us. It is a key part of our identity. It’s a source of pride, even if our hometown is the punch line to a joke.

Is it really the good schools, parks, and access to shopping centers that make us live where we live? Many people find a fulfilling sense of community in smaller towns and rural regions that do not have all the advantages of larger communities.

Maybe it is not the measurable elements that give a place a sense of community but rather those intangible qualities that create the feeling. Could it be that working with your neighbors to build a park is more important to the sense of community than the actual park? The arts have always been one of the focal points around that help to build a sense of community.

Town festivals, cultural events, and celebrations are often the most visible signs of a community working together. Each pumpkin festival, summer concert series on the town square, or art sale pulls together diverse elements of the community.

An example of this can be seen in Oxford, MS, which has worked to define itself as an arts community. Numerous programs have been launched in partnership between various segments of the community.

Last year working with local business owners, artists, and the Convention and Visitors Bureau, a monthly art crawl was launched to highlight the visual artists in the region.

Business owners opened their shops to one night-only art exhibits to encourage residents to spend the early evening downtown, walking and looking at art, hoping they would purchase items from their stores or enjoy dinner in a local restaurant, impacting the local economy.

The success was measurable and visible. Business owners experienced growing crowds, walking through art exhibits, sidewalks full of visitors from other communities, and retail shops drawing new customers during the art crawl.

This year the Oxford Art Crawl has returned with business owners looking to maximize the goodwill and traffic generated by the program.

Instead of a series of one night events, business owners have looked to use the art crawl as a capstone to an art-based project that brings visitors to the downtown. Sculptors were asked to create works to be exhibited by business owners in public spaces such as store windows, restaurants, and parks creating a month-long public art project.

It provides an opportunity for tourism while creating a new opportunity for artist to sell work. A partnership of this nature engages business owners in a manner they understand—their bottom line. A simple, small project of this nature transforms the aesthetic nature of arts.

The community can experience how the arts enhance the quality of life in a community on several levels, namely access to cultural programs and generating traffic and revenue for business owners.

This post is one in a series highlighting The pARTnership Movement, Americans for the Arts’ campaign to to reach business leaders with the message that partnering with the arts can build their competitive advantage. Visit our website to find out how both businesses and local arts agencies can get involved!

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