*** This letter was published Feb. 6, 2009 in the Bristol Herald Courier. ***
Compared to manufacturing and health services, among others, the arts and culture sector is viewed as unnecessary, unimportant, and discretionary. In general, it is fair to say that when times get tough the arts lose. But is this wise?
Consider that the various arts organizations in the region including the Barter Theatre, Symphony of the Mountains, William King Regional Arts Center and the numerous other cultural organizations annually contribute approximately $50 million directly to the regional economy; create hundreds of jobs which pay above-average wages; generate tens of thousands in local and state tax revenue; and provide the quality of life that employers seek when considering where to locate new facilities.
Beyond this, the important new jobs created in the United States over the next decade will be in the "creative class." In terms of educating the next generation of creative class workers here in our region and in attracting these people to the higher income jobs created here, we must continue to provide both access to and education in the arts. In short, the arts are vitally important to the region and can serve as a catalyst for future growth.
Beyond our economic or educational contributions, the arts build communities. We depend on you. Across the country, the arts are in trouble. Museums, ballets, symphonies and other cultural organizations are either closing outright or reducing their staffs and performance schedules in an effort to cope with the current financial downturn. Income from sources such as government grants, foundations, corporations and private giving is shrinking.
The situation is no different here in the Tri-Cities region. Indeed, according to Guidestar Nonprofit services, private giving in the Southeastern United States is down nearly 40 percent from this time last year.
Talk to your local and state elected officials and tell them how important we are to you.
The arts and cultural venues in our region need public support through attendance, membership and volunteerism. I would like to urge you to attend a play, musical performance or exhibition at one of our regional museums, theatres or symphonies.
Join the one you are most passionate about, give your time and contribute to the growth and development of our community.
Above all, become involved.
Editor's Note: Dobson is the executive director of the William King Regional Arts Center, an American Association of Museums accredited art and heritage museum located in Abingdon.