There are many elements that go into the mosaic of a strong local economy. The more a region’s economic prosperity flows from a diverse collection of community assets, the less susceptible it becomes to inevitable economic cycles or other impacts outside of its control.
Among the most important – and sometimes taken for granted – blocks of Northwest Michigan’s economic quilt are the region’s diverse and dynamic arts and cultural offerings. The Great Lakes are full of charming communities seeking to attract talent and visitors. Our “secret sauce” is an outsized arts and culture landscape that is as important to the region’s quality of life and economic potential as our prized beaches, bays and other treasured natural resources. Our region’s difference is that while Mother Nature created many of the features that make it unique and desirable, our arts and cultural attractions are solely the product of the foresight, dedication, generosity and hard work of many individuals achieved over generations to enrich the lives and experiences of both our residents and visitors.
World-class arts and cultural offerings have been part of the community’s fabric for so long, it’s understandable how they sometimes fly under the radar. Their patrons often work quietly and behind the scenes, focused on results and sustainability over personal publicity. But their quiet resolve speaks volumes in terms of accomplishments – look at the decades of success from various institutions and organizations including the Interlochen Center for the Arts, Traverse Symphony Orchestra, Old Town Playhouse, and The Dennos at Northwestern Michigan College, which just completed a multi-million dollar renovation and expansion.
This rich history created a foundation for the success of other endeavors – including the revival of landmarks like the Historic City Opera House and State Theatre in downtown Traverse City. Those venues helped spawn more impactful innovations like the Traverse City Film Festival and the National Writers Series – events that put even more of a national spotlight on our arts and culture scene.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Data from Networks Northwest identifies more than 100 arts and cultural organizations in the 10-county region, and upwards of 1,000 individual artists, musicians, performers, designers, gallery owners, filmmakers and others with creative interests. There are close to 1,000 creative sector businesses and non-profit organizations throughout the region, with close to 3,000 employees.
The Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce understands the indisputable link between the arts, economic prosperity and quality of life. For years the Chamber has displayed the work of local artists throughout its facility, and several years ago welcomed the River Guardian metal sculpture outside its entrance overlooking the Boardman River. In 2011, the Chamber recognized Elnora Milliken with its prestigious Distinguished Service Award for her role in advancing the regional arts, including the aforementioned TSO and Old Town Playhouse. She was also among the early organizers of the Botanic Garden at Historic Barns Park, another amazing cultural institution created through an army of dedicated volunteers and visionaries.
It’s difficult to overstate the benefits of these community treasures and the impact of the people that power them. They are attractions to people who visit here, and year-round amenities for local residents. For the most part, they are just as relevant when it’s sunny and 80 degrees as when it’s 20 degrees and snowing. While all sorts of variables can impact our regional economy – from the weather to the stock market – our arts and cultural sector sustains and thrives through the creativity, enthusiasm and dedication of its practitioners and patrons.
The rest of us of us have the easy part. We can ensure our arts and cultural attractions continue to grow simply by enjoying them – take in a play, film or concert, tour our amazing galleries and museums, purchase a locally produced painting or craft piece, or enjoy a talk from a visiting author or artist. Support the advertisers and sponsors of our arts and cultural sector, or the organizations themselves. You’ll enrich yourself and build a stronger community at the same time – and what can be more rewarding than that?
Doug Luciani is the CEO of TraverseCONNECT and the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org