What’s one of the most effective ways a city can boost its economy?
One answer: it can back the arts.
That was a theme at the State of the City address in Thousand Oaks last week. A good portion of the presentation was devoted to how that city looks to the arts as one of its economic mainstays, now and in the future.
“The arts are vital to our economy,” Mayor Claudia Bill-de la Peña said at a lunch presentation Dec. 5 attended by more than 250 at California Lutheran University.
Apparently, she’s not alone in that thinking. According to the National League of Cities, arts and culture this year was one of the biggest topics mentioned in state-of-the-city addresses by mayors across the country. In fact, nine out of 10 mayors mentioned arts and culture as central to their cities’ future.
It makes sense. The so-called creative economy is a real thing. And cities – particularly those outside the urban core – can thrive by appealing to professionals, particularly younger ones, who seek out places that have interesting and exciting amenities for their leisure time. A vibrant arts district is a big draw today. So is a great venue for concerts and performances.
Of course, Thousand Oaks is greatly helped by its city-owned Civic Arts Plaza, which includes the 1,800 seat Fred Kavli Theater. We were told at the luncheon that it is the largest performing arts center between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The likes of David Copperfield, BB King and Mikhail Baryshnikov have performed there, but it regularly hosts all manner of community groups.
In a video shown at the luncheon, a 16-year-old dancer said she grew up being inspired by watching performances at the Kavli theater, and now she gets to perform there – and hopefully she is inspiring others.
As I watched her, I thought about those young professionals mentioned a moment ago. I imagined that they aspire to hear their own kids one day say something like that 16-year-old. They want to live and work in a city where their kids can be inspired and inspire others. In other words, the theater is an amenity that makes professional people want to live in Thousand Oaks.
Obviously, funding the arts is not the only thing a city should concentrate on. A business-friendly environment coupled with good schools and low crime is a basic, winning formula. It’s just that as smaller cities strive to boost their economic stature, they often seem to overlook cultural amenities.
In fact, funding for the arts – if done right – can offer a great return. A study by the Center for Economics and Business Research reportedly found that arts and culture make up 0.4 percent of Britain’s GDP but accounted for only 0.1 percent of government spending. What’s more, the cultural sector is becoming a bigger part of the U.K’s economy while the wider economy is contracting.
Bill-de la Peña, the mayor, said the arts accounts for $30 million in economic activity and supports 450 full-time jobs. Not bad for a smaller city with a population of about 130,000.
She said her city had lots of goals and priorities. Among them: keeping the Los Angeles Rams headquartered there, continuing to create a kind of downtown district and making the city a bicycling destination. But it’s really smart for Thousand Oaks to put real emphasis on arts and culture.
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Our country is so divided that we cannot even agree on who the bad guys are. A public figure who may be loathed in Los Angeles could well be toasted in Texas.
Believe it or not, I thought about that after the death of Charles Manson. Why? Because he was the rare guy who was hated by everyone. In a perverse way, Manson brought us together.
All the articles and television documentaries that followed Manson’s death on Nov. 19 reminded me that, back in the late 1960s and early ’70s, we were united as a country. It didn’t matter if you were rich or poor or urban or rural or conservative or liberal, you had an abiding and visceral revulsion for Manson and his murdering Manson Family. Back then, you could go to any party anywhere, from sea to shining sea, and declare right out loud that you hated Manson. Absolutely no one would disagree.
Flash forward to today. Go ahead and try to come up with a name of a bad guy that wouldn’t be controversial in some way, or spark a spirited disagreement at a party. Kim Jong Un, maybe. Regardless, the list is very short.
So finally, in this era in which we cannot agree on who the bad guys are, we can actually agree to this: The worst guy who ever slithered out of the San Fernando Valley was Charles Manson.
Charles Crumpley is editor and publisher of the Business Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com.