Arts and Culture as an Economic Development Strategy

On Monday, November 10, the Michigan Municipal League in partnership with the Department of History, Arts, and Libraries (HAL) held one of their training seminars at The Henry Ford in Dearborn, Michigan. The presentation was titled “Arts and Culture as an Economic Development Strategy.” The overall theme asserted that arts and culture are key components needed to attract and retain people and businesses in Michigan communities which will help aid Michigan’s economic resurgence.

The keynote speaker was Robert McNulty, the founder and president of Partners for Livable Communities. He is a recognized expert in urban planning and community development by bringing together public and private partnerships to help revitalize cities.

McNulty used Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Chattanooga, Tennessee as examples of what happens to a community when money is invested in cultural activities. Both cities were turned around positively through the investment of capital, leadership, innovation, and hard work. He noted that culture and the arts are assets to help achieve the goals of a livable community, and libraries can assist because of their unique ability to change according to community needs.

McNulty stressed the need to use arts and culture to welcome people into the community and added that multiculturalism needs to be celebrated in arts and cultural programs. All programming should be inviting and not excluding. Most importantly, for all of these ideas to work leaders need a “non-politicized” agenda.

One of the afternoon sessions was highlighted by Maud Lyon, Executive Director of the Cultural Alliance of Southeastern Michigan. This organization has a membership roster of 75 organizations throughout a seven county region. The Cultural Alliance of Southeastern Michigan helps to ensure that arts and cultural institutions are included in community decisions and help serve community needs; the Alliance helps draw people into communities as residents rather than as tourists.

In total there were six speakers, and all were excellent. The importance of arts and culture will be vital in building and retaining strong communities in Southeastern Michigan. Many of the speakers asserted that libraries could be a great resource to help attract arts and culture into communities. It was also noted that libraries are beloved yet underfunded. Partnerships will be of great importance to ensure Michigan’s economic recovery.

This free seminar will be repeated on Friday, December 12, 2008 in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

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