Neeta Delaney is the President and CEO of ArtServe Michigan, the statewide advocacy organization working to cultivate the creative economy by mobilizing Michigan’s arts and cultural sector.
Prior to joining ArtServe Michigan, Neeta spent five years as President and Chief Executive Officer of the Jackson County Community Foundation before moving on to lead the creation of the Armory Arts Project, a major community revitalization effort to transform a 19-acre site that includes a historic 19th century prison and an adjoining vacant industrial complex into a unique mixed-use neighborhood and cultural destination. The Project has gained state and national attention as a model for revitalization through community-based cultural economic development.
In 2004, Neeta served as an Executive on Loan to Governor Granholm where she authored Cultural Economic Development: A Practical Guide for Communities which has served as a starting point for communities working to leverage their arts and cultural assets as community and economic development tools. Neeta is a graduate of The University of Michigan.
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Arts Education = Creative Talent
So we've covered a lot here. We've talked about how arts and culture are the keys to urban revitalization. We've covered how you can get involved as an advocate or ambassador for the arts in Michigan. As this is my final post, I’d like to bring it all back to the beginning and look at the roots of how arts and culture will shape Michigan's future – which means we need to talk about education.
The well-respected nonprofit think tank Michigan Future, Inc. recently released its first annual report following its much publicized 2006 report entitled "A New Agenda for a New Michigan." In that original report, the most important finding was that the regions of the country that are thriving all have one thing in common - the ability to attract and retain talent. "What most distinguish successful areas from Michigan are their concentrations of talent, where talent is defined as a combination of knowledge, creativity, and entrepreneurship.
Quite simply, in a knowledge-driven and entrepreneurial economy, the places with the greatest concentrations of talent win."
So what are we doing to nurture and develop this type of talent. It’s one thing to retain and attract it, but even more fundamental is the need to cultivate it in our children. Results from a national poll released in late January by Lake Research Partners focuses on a growing awareness that we need to make sure we are cultivating imagination in our young people as an integral part of their public education.
The new national survey of 1,000 likely voters identifies that 30% of American voters are not only dissatisfied with public education’s narrow focus on the 'so-called" basics but that they also believe developing the imagination is a critical, but missing, ingredient to student success in 21st century schools and moving students beyond average.
- Almost nine in ten voters (89%) say that using the imagination is important to innovation and one’s success in a global knowledge-based economy and essential to success in the 21st Century.
- 88% of respondents indicated that an education in and through the arts is essential to cultivating the imagination.
As we advocate for the important role that Michigan arts, culture and creativity play in shaping our state's future, we need to make sure we connect the dots between the kind of Michigan we say we want and those things we need to invest in if we hope to get there.
Clearly, cultivating the imagination of our children through education in and through the arts is an essential part of the equation and something we should keep front of mind and on the tips of our tongues. I remain hopeful that eventually the facts will stick.
The Other Environment Worth Bragging About
For all its beauty and powerful emotional appeal, the Pure Michigan campaign launched by Travel Michigan still falls short of the mark in terms of capturing the full sense of Michigan’s fundamental appeal - the unique combination of both our natural and cultural environments!
This promotional campaign, which I consider first-rate, could still be significantly improved by broadening its focus to include Michigan’s cultural environment and the characteristics that make that environment worth promoting alongside the Great Lakes, woods and water.
It is the diversity and authenticity of a state full of home-grown/world class arts and cultural offerings and the creativity of our people that makes Michigan more than beautiful. It makes us interesting.
With the proliferation of strip malls, shopping centers, chain stores, cookie cutter housing developments etc. – what some have referred to as the "Generica" syndrome – more and more people are looking for places that are authentic and interesting. In fact, in some instances interesting trumps beautiful! We need to add that cultural interest to our natural beauty when we promote ourselves.
We’re thrilled that the Governor supports increasing funding for tourism marketing through the Pure Michigan campaign, but we’d love to see some of the money used to beef up the cultural side of the equation.
The nature/culture connection takes many forms, but what they both have in common is that they are truly the only things that remain when we’re gone. With such incredible natural and cultural resources, we in Michigan need to find a way to bring these worlds and the people who care about them closer together.
Imagine the power and influence of a well-organized creative sector joining forces with Michigan's environmentalists and those who protect our natural resources. It's still a ways off, and there’s a lot of work to do, but I am hopeful.
Just imagine the possibilities.
Be An Ambassador for the Arts
A couple years ago when board members of both the Michigan Association of Community Arts Agencies (MACAA) and ArtServe were engaged in merger negotiations, one of our meetings was held at the Flint Institute of Arts. Board members from the Detroit area who had never been to the Flint Cultural Center were totally blown away by what they found there.
I can also say with confidence that several board members from smaller and/or rural communities who had not been to Detroit in decades would have been shocked to find the richness of cultural offerings here.
This lack of awareness cuts in all directions – urban/rural, East/West, Upper Peninsula, Lower Peninsula, etc. Add to that the fact that you can still feel a number of regional divides – regions that don’t seem to care about or support one another in any meaningful way.
For example, it’s no secret that there is no love lost between Detroit and Grand Rapids, a situation that in subtle and not so subtle ways works against our collective ability to promote the arts, cultural and creative strengths of the state as a whole.
I realize we’re all caught up in the significant challenges of our own work and that time, energy and dollars are limited. There are certainly plenty of legitimate excuses.
I really believe, however, that if Michigan wants to promote its cultural richness, it has to begin with a collective appreciation among all of us. We’ve got to get out and experience it ourselves and then tell our friends and neighbors the amazing things we’ve seen and done.
So I encourage you to be a tourist in your own town, region and state. Plan a visit to the new “green” Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM), have dinner and drinks in the growing entertainment district along the Grand River and stay in the new JW Marriott or the historic Amway Grand Plaza. Head to see the newly renovated Flint Institute of Art and the edgy Red Ink Studios adjacent to the Farmers Market in Flint. Find out why Old Town Lansing receives such praise. Check out the Box Factory in St. Joe. to watch a wide range of artists and artisans at work. Visit ART 634 and the newly opened Armory Arts Project in Jackson for a real eye-opener in terms of perception of a community vs. reality. Bring a group of friends who haven’t been to Detroit in a while down to Campus Martius Park for an event, show them the inside of the incredible Guardian Building, enjoy unbelievable barbecue at Slows Bar BQ and jazz at Cliff Bell’s - the art deco gem on Park St. and walk along the newly developed riverfront. Stop by Pewabic Pottery, the Heidelberg Project, the newly reinvented DIA, stock up on spices at Rafals adjacent to Eastern Market and take in a salsa lesson and savor Cuban food at Vicentes.
Plan a trip to the Michigan Legacy Art Park in Thompsonville south of Traverse City where you can ski or just hunker down in front of a fireplace at Crystal Mtn. Resort and then snowshoe through more than 30 acres of former cross country ski trails graced by over 40 awesome pieces of outdoor sculpture in every style and medium imaginable.
When you have more than a weekend, plan a trip to the U.P. where you’ll be bowled over by the arts and cultural scene along the waterfront in Marquette as well as hidden gems like the Vertin Gallery in Calumet which showcases the arts & history of the Keweenaw through the works of 40 area artists, many of whom have shown and sold their work around the globe.
You may not realize it, but perhaps the most powerful way we can shine a light on the full range of Michigan’s incredibly diverse, authentic home-grown/world class arts and cultural offerings is to experience them ourselves, share those experiences and then grab the hands of our friends and family and open some eyes, ears and minds!
Art Revives Cities
Think for a moment about the most remarkable urban revitalization success stories around the state. Such dramatic transformations of decaying industrial sites and abandoned buildings into thriving, bustling places like the Avenue of the Arts in Grand Rapids, the Entertainment and Cultural Districts of downtown Detroit, the Box Factory in St. Joe, Old Town in Lansing and more recently the Armory Arts Project in Jackson.
What do they all have in common? Arts and culture were the catalysts.
This phenomenon is not new. Large metropolitan areas like New York City and others have for decades been able to point to countless examples of the culture/commerce connection. What is new, however, is that more of these efforts are happening not by default, but by design.
"Cultural economic development" is what happens when you engage the creative energy of a community’s artists, designers and cultural institutions in discussions, decisions, planning and implementation of a community’s efforts to breathe new life into its economy.
The result is a more interesting and appealing place to live, work, start or locate a new enterprise. Examples of intentional arts-focused development efforts include affordable artists live/work spaces, public art programs, creative industries innovation centers, river art walks, arts & entertainment districts, historic preservation districts, cultural tourism, arts incubators, performing arts centers and arts and cultural festivals.
Just five years ago, nearly every building in the 100 and 200 block of Division Avenue in Grand Rapids was either vacant or in serious disrepair. Because of an intentional strategy adopted by the housing-focused nonprofit Dwelling Place, today the Avenue of the Arts community is home to 66 creative residents, seven new businesses and next month two new restaurants. These restaurants alone will bring 80 – 100 jobs to the area.
By now, it’s common knowledge that the Michigan Opera Theatre’s pioneering restoration of the Detroit Opera House was the catalytic spark for what is now a re-energized downtown sports and entertainment district that bears no resemblance to the dreary abandoned unpeopled place it was just a decade or so ago.
Artists and gallery owners partnered with the Old Town Business & Art Development Association in Lansing to transform a blighted area adjacent to the Grand River into a cultural/commercial gem with 20,000 visitors attending the annual Blues Fest, another 20,000 attending its Jazz Fest. Lansing’s Old Town was recognized as an outstanding success story by Ikea's "Small Businesses, Big Dreams" contest beating out 50 other cities across the country.
Arts incubators are also being lauded as catalysts for revitalization with the most recent example of the Jackson Armory Arts Project which has transformed a 19th prison in Jackson into live/work space for dozens of artist entrepreneurs. The project has already served as the catalyst for new development in the surrounding area and is in the process of transforming the community’s decade’s long negative self-image.
And think about arts and cultural events that rock communities each year. Launched in 2000, Movement, the Detroit Electronic Music Festival, had 630,000 attendees in just three years injecting $60 million into the economy in one weekend.
Then there's the upcoming ROTHBURY, the giant multi-day music festival with 70 bands playing over the 4th of July weekend at Double JJ Ranch just north of Muskegon, with attendance estimated at 50,000 and the economic impact to be "staggering" to the small lake town community.
Michigan’s nonprofit arts and cultural activities alone generate $2 billion a year, support 108,000 jobs and are the raw material for a $65.5 million cultural tourism industry.
If this region truly wants to grow a creative economy, more people need to see the connection between culture and commerce. The examples are all around us, but we need to shine a brighter light on them!
Advocacy or Apathy
Advocacy may not have the sexiest connotation, but it’s definitely not a dirty word. Apathy, on the other hand, is.
To advocate means to "actively support" a cause, a belief, an idea or policy. It’s requires caring enough about something to take the time and energy to express your support for it. Unfortunately, particularly when it comes to the arts, culture and creativity in Michigan, for too long, the norm has been apathy, not advocacy.
Since 2002, state support for arts and culture grants has gone from 4th in the nation to 51st. Shocking for a state that talks a lot about valuing creativity.
My passion - and the mission of ArtServe Michigan – is to advocate for a Michigan where arts, culture and creativity are valued, nurtured, and supported as essential to not only individual growth, but to the health, well-being and economic prosperity of our communities and the state as a whole.
The recent outpouring of new voices getting involved in this presidential campaign gives me hope that we're undergoing a cultural shift - one from apathy and self-involvement - to a new era of civic engagement and social activism with the youth leading the way.
The potential to make significant social change by harnessing the power of the Internet, social media and networking is unbelievable, but these are only tools. The desire – the fire in the belly - must be there first.
So what can you do?
We need you to help us influence the State FY 2009 budget process currently underway to make sure we reverse the trend of disinvestment and begin increasing the state’s investment in arts, culture and creativity.
We need your help in supporting legislation to increase funding for arts education in public schools, cultural tourism and the recently proposed incentive package to attract film-makers to make movies in Michigan.
You can start by joining us in Lansing on March 19th for Arts & Culture Advocacy Day. This is the single most important statewide gathering of everyone who cares about arts, culture and creativity in Michigan. If you care, be there!
You can also join ArtServe's new Facebook Group: Create MichAgain to share ideas with like-minded folks. And sign up for GRAAND, ArtServe's grass roots advocacy network. You'll get regular updates on the issues and alerts to specific actions you can take like calling and emailing your elected officials, providing written and in-person testimony for public hearings, and providing us with compelling examples of the positive impact of arts, culture and creativity in your community.
I know there are thousands of passionate people and business leaders like me who read Metromode every week and truly want to see their positive vision for this region and the State become a reality. The fact is that it's going to take more than wishful thinking. It will take advocacy.
See you in Lansing on March 19th!