Blog: Jeremy Peters

Jeremy Peters has the kind of cool downtown job others long for. He's Ghostly International's Director of Licensing and Publishing. He also has strong opinions about how Ann Arbor views its downtown and the importance of arts and culture. So, guess what he'll be blogging about?

Jeremy Peters - Post No 3: Michigan's Unkindest Cuts

Thru all the stress of the economic downturn this nation has seen, hitting Michigan especially hard, it becomes very easy to cut that which could be a huge part of the remedy to the situation.

It begs asking: how many of you have actively considered moving away? How many people do you know who don't live here have considered moving here?

To answer those questions personally, I've considered moving, and to date don't really know anyone who has considered moving here for a reason other than schooling. I'm sure there are some, but I'd also be willing to say they are few and far between, and I'd also bet a good chunk of people who read this may have similar answers.

For those who follow these sorts of things, there have been numerous studies and initiatives sounding the warning call loud and clear: not only are we losing jobs, but we're losing those citizens we've invested in to educate in our public schools and universities, and we can't attract people from outside the state to move here. This spells declines in representation in our national government, declines in state funding, and an overall decline of our state and communities on the whole.

So why is this happening? Sure we're fighting an economic downturn, but these problems were happening before the downturn, and have only been expedited by the slowdown. What have we been doing wrong then? Why are people moving away or choosing not to come here?

The answer: We haven't sold our state in the right way. We've been marketing ourselves to our citizens and to the world as a whole all wrong. Stay with me here for a second.

This isn't to say that we haven't made efforts to show people what Michigan is made of. We're getting there, but missing a crucial element. We've got insanely cheap real estate, companies who are hiring (while not in droves, there are openings for young talent out there), but we're missing the pitch on selling the young software designer, bio-tech engineer, or graphic designer that there's a wealth of culture in our cities. We're fumbling the ball when we tell them about the lakes and the forests and the sports teams, but not the gold mine of artists who make their living here.

What do people associate with Michigan? What has Michigan been exporting to the rest of the world for the last 50 odd years other than automobiles?

Music. And amazing music at that. On top of that, we've born brilliant writers, designers, and visual artists.

Yet, somehow, as a state, whenever times get tough, the first thing on the chopping block is the Arts. It's an easy cut - not everyone likes all types of art, and when a dollar either has to go to a road or an art installation, the road seems the easy choice.

This, however, is where we as cities and a state err.

If we want to attract people to this state, we don't need to build new roads to bring them here. We need to prove to them that there's things to do other than drive around a bunch, and go to the lake or go camping. These are all part of the total package, but focusing solely on them as a way to attract & retain citizens is completely backward. We need to invest in telling people about the programming that agencies like University Musical Society provide, the brilliant films that show at theaters like the the Detroit Film Theatre and the Michigan Theater, impressive spaces like the Art Museums in our cities, and arguably most importantly the music scenes that have always been part and parcel to the culture of our state.

From Motown to Kid Rock, from The Gories to Iggy & The Stooges, from Eminem to Steve Miller, and from Carl Cox to Nomo, Michigan has always been a music state. It is in our blood, it's a huge asset, and to me it seems like we're collectively throwing away a chance to grow the exact thing that will attract not only citizens but businesses to the state.

When choosing a place for a new office or headquarters, employers want to know that their employees will lead full and vibrant lives and have things to do within their communities when they're not in the office. In that same token, it makes it a million times easier for a business to attract the talent it needs to expand and succeed when those employees immediately know that they're moving to vibrant, culturally rich cities - places that they can enjoy and can ultimately raise well rounded children in.

I know I'm biased here, as I'm employed in the Arts, but I'll say it is obscenely frustrating to hear close friends who are immensely talent musicians, writers, photographers, and designers speak and ultimately act on the idea of packing up and heading away from the area. I

'm not talking about moving from Ann Arbor to Ypsi, or from Ypsi to Lansing. We're losing the undercurrent of culture and creatively minded people that has always kept our cities vibrant to the Chicagos, Brooklyns, San Franciscos and Austins of the world. Given a wide angle lens, it's easy to brush this off, saying "Oh well, that's always going to happen."

Should it though?

I'd argue no. This shouldn't be happening. These people are exactly the ones driving the culture that our state should be putting in the forefront. What should be happening is that these art scenes should be growing, and our cities and state should be investing in them. It's gotten to the point where we're taking things into our own hands and banding together to get thru this - from artist colonies sprouting up in Detroit, to Arts & Culture organizations banding together to defend themselves against people in power who see them as easy ways to balance a bloated budget.

I would relish living in a state where a fledgling do-it-yourself record label, home based book publisher, or painter wasn't stretching themselves so thin that they eventually break. I would relish living in a place that recognizes the immense diversity and wealth of the culture that resides within its boundaries and would go out of its way to promote it, to present it, and to invest in making sure that all facets of the arts community, from the painters who paint in their living rooms, to the record label based in the family room of the house, to those art organizations, artisans, and businesses with their own performance spaces, offices, and buildings are all incentivized or invested in somehow by the cities and the state they reside in.

The risk is too great. Michigan is a state that isn't in the greatest financial shape, we all know. There are tough choices ahead of us, but one of them shouldn't be whether or not to invest into our culture - the culture that is the easiest way to market what a great place this is to live, that has been intrinsically woven in our communities fabric for so long, and the loss of which results in a part of the country that people don't consider interesting enough to move to - even if we're flush with jobs in the future.

You want to attract and retain talent? Put our music scenes, our art scenes, and our cultural institutions on the presentation block, not the chopping block. Do otherwise, and we risk losing not only our history, but our future.