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        Arts & Culture take center stage at the 2023 CALED Conference

        Community Development

        June 25, 2023 | Tracy Hudak

        From keynote panels to numerous breakout sessions, the 2023 CALED (California Association of Local Economic Development) Conference featured arts-based strategies for improving local economies throughout. Civic leaders are looking to the culture sector for ideas and we have some valuable things to learn from them as well.

        CALED is the go-to thought leadership and professional development resource for people engaged in the field of local community development. Held in downtown Los Angeles, the theme of this year’s conference was “transformative economic development,” so it’s no surprise that the arts took front and center in many discussions.

        In fact, two of the four presentations in the conference keynote were arts-based strategies. Jason Foster, CAA collaborator and COO/President of Destination Crenshaw, discussed how that project has put “unapologetically black culture” and its artistic expressions at the center of a strategic reimagining of the Crenshaw area, understanding its power to draw folks to the area while serving as a catalyst for social justice and economic vibrancy. Also featured was Akil West, founder and CEO of Sole Folks, a creative business co-op and incubator located in the Los Angeles neighborhood Leimert Park. Sole Folks provides retail space, a production lab and business development support for 40 Black designers and entrepreneurs.

        “The Essential Role of the Creative Economy in Post-Pandemic Recovery” breakout session offered super valuable insights. Economist (and also CAA collaborator) Adam Fowler from CVL Economics kicked the conversation off by describing the arts as “meaning-making” activities that shape local economies, interact with the built environment and improve the well-being of communities. By creating cultural and social capital amongst residents, arts and culture provide an “important gravitational pull,” says Fowler, for attracting and bonding people to a place. He also emphasized how rigid zoning laws and outdated regulations can stifle creative entrepreneurship and business development as well as the creation of vibrant social spaces — see key takeaways below for ideas for advocacy opportunities.

        Following Fowler was “DTLA Reimagined: Creative Economy to the Rescue!” by Nicholas Ziff Griffin, the Executive Director of DTLA (Downtown LA’s business improvement district). He reminded us that crises are also opportunities to provoke people to come together to reimagine social contracts and their cities, with arts and culture being essential to that process. The session wrapped with Jason Moody of Economic & Planning Systems discussing “Capturing the Value: Financing Arts and Culture.” He shared that funding arts and culture is difficult because these investments “defy traditional risk / return metrics” which rely on profit markers such as top-down business models, economies of scale and mass production rather than calculating civic and social value. And our society has a hard time investing in “public goods” where the benefits are diffused and difficult to monetize. He shared with the civic leaders what we already know, that arts/culture funding is often inadequate and unstable with non-profits doing the heavy lifting. He recommends that cities ”extract/divert a slice of economic value that normally goes to nearby businesses, property owners, General Fund,” etc. to the arts through mechanisms such as a hotel tax , percent for the art construction fees, or additional sales tax.

        Other breakaway conversations featured arts and culture strategies. In the “Partnering with Planning” session, Peter Pallesen with the City of Ontario talked about their West Euclid Activation Plan which is being “ envisioned as the placed-based, people-focused, commercial, and cultural “heart” of the City.” And in the “Growing Local Business” session, Swan Asbury of the City of Eureka talked about how the priorities and opportunities identified in the city’s Strategic Arts Plan, as well as their status as a CA Cultural District, gave the cultural sector power and legitimacy in additional civic planning.

        The conference offered vital insights for our field as well. Key takeaways and opportunities include:

        • Create partnerships with local economic development agencies — civic leaders are seeking ideas, strategies and advocacy partners
        • Join forces with others to get prioritized in plans — economic development is supported by multiple funding streams and being integrated into plans can help the arts access these dollars
        • We are the “There” — our programs, artists, festivals and public art are the stories civic leaders want to tell to about their community
        • Take advantage of economic development programs too like ”shop local” programs that incentivize supporting local businesses or local entrepreneurship programs and tourism marketing platforms
        • Champion updates in zoning, event permitting and other regulations to encourage innovation and social placemaking — Fowler mentioned “artisanal zoning” that allows for multiple types of activities like small scale production of creative goods to go with retail and public events to take place in one building
        • Get involved in land use planning too — your city or county General Plan is the DNA of the future built environment and some California localities identify economic development goals which can include the creative economy. This can lay the foundation for future investments as well as be leveraged to hold elected officials accountable.

        Want to learn more?

        ➜ Visit the CFTA Arts + Economic Development web page for tips and resources to help arts leaders get informed and involved.

        ➜ Email with any questions

         Make sure you are a CFTA member so you can attend member strategy sessions on topics like these.

        Tracy Hudak is Manager of Programs and Organizational Advancement at Californians for the Arts.

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