Leadership Conference

for Creating Arts and Cultural Districts in Virginia

Friday, May 15, 2009
9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m
Fredericksburg, Virginia

Creating Arts And Cultural Districts Excerpts from Sources

DOWNTOWN SUCCESS: Eight Common Themes

ONE: Synergy and Critical Mass. An arts or cultural facility by itself is unlikely to change its surrounding environment. Thus, it takes more than a single facility, even one with great drama and imaginative design, to bring life to a district or a downtown. Success is usually based on a blending of attractions that support each other over time.

TWO: Identity. The identity of a district is stronger than any of its individual components. Arts and cultural districts benefit from marketing the identity of their district. They communicate to a regional audience (often including out-of-town visitors) the happenings in the district. Creating identity markets a destination that combines an array of activities artistic and commercial for success.

THREE: Heart of Downtown. The best location is almost always in the heart of downtown. The greatest benefits for the cultural community, downtown and the region are derived when the arts are woven directly into the fabric of downtown. When downtown is the location, the widest audience is reached, and the greatest synergy is developed.

FOUR: Sustain a Vision. A successful arts or cultural district needs committed investors and a steward of the vision. Without people to lead and sustain the vision, even the best art and cultural models would not survive past the idea stage. The seven cities had committed public or philanthropic investors willing to put their resources at risk at critical times to ensure continued advancement of the vision.

FIVE: Historic and Cultural Anchors. New investment needs to use existing assets. Nearly every American city contains important cultural resources. Often the best way for downtowns to re-establish themselves as regional cultural centers is to build on existing strengths and historical anchors, not replace them.

SIX: Stretch the Boundaries. The most successful organizations have ventured far beyond traditional arts boundaries. Leaders of art and cultural districts must be prepared to do whatever it takes to create an atmosphere of success. It may be helping to restore historic storefronts, design streetscapes or open a ticket business. The best structures move freely between civic, commercial and cultural worlds.

SEVEN: Beyond Buildings. The hardest work comes after the buildings are built, not before. Even the best venue can fail with weak marketing, management and programming. Likewise, "weaker" venues or designs can succeed when management and marketing are strong. All venues need capable, professional staff to enhance their volunteer leadership.

EIGHT: Artist as Asset. Often, too little attention is paid to the viability of arts organizations and artists. Buildings don't make art; artists make art. Artists and art organizations are key to successful cultural centers. They are the reason venues draw people to downtown

BEYOND LOCATION: Five Success Factors

Five factors consistently impact the environment and context within which a performing arts center operates: Management, Identity, Partnership, Investments, and Leadership.

MANAGEMENT. Active management of cultural resources and the downtown environment are key to success. Every organization, whether government, private or nonprofit, must coalesce for the goal of making culture vital to downtown, and vice versa. Bricks and mortar alone will not create a successful, animated arts center. Stakeholders must assess their tasks, then implement strategy. There are many approaches, including creation of an arts/cultural district that can assume responsibility for culture's broader place in downtown.

IDENTITY. It is important to create a strong identity for existing arts and cultural organizations downtown so that each is seen as part of a whole "experience" rather than piecemeal independents. Such an identity provides marketing opportunities and connect complementary uses, such as day and nighttime activities, streets and shops. The identity helps to broaden the appeal of a downtown cultural center.

PARTNERSHIPS. Opportunites to form partnerships with nearby attractions should be mined to realize the full potential and marketability of a cultural center. Whether a sports complex, a convention center or a dining region, every opportunity to link art and culture with existing and planned attractions offer potential for increased success.

INVESTMENTS. In the same way that a cultural center will not thrive independently, nor can it be conceived of and built independently. The process is an excellent opportunity to consider what other investments might be needed to achieve the larger cultural and redevelopment objectives of downtown. For instance, surrounding streets and sidewalks often require upgrades to maximize appeal, and optimally, incorporate an overall urban design concept to connect an arts district. On a larger scale, long-term financial viability of the overall arts market requires attention and investment.

LEADERSHIP. The importance of early and strong leadership cannot be underestimated. All of the most successful arts centers have involved some combination of support from local (and in some cases state) government, business and philanthropic organizations. In many cases, one group rose above others to play an early, critical role in organizing stakeholders and providing a larger vision.

Research Questions for Seven Cities:
  • What have been the role of arts/culture/entertainment facilities in the redevelopment of downtown? What has been their impact?
  • Are there any studies or data that describe this impact?
  • Describe the type, capacities, location and attendance of downtown cultural and entertainment facilities.
  • Are there important connections between arts and cultural facilities and other significant elements of downtown (i.e. convention center, hotel base, sports arenas, retail centers, enteraintment venues, transit, downtown housing, tourism destinations or historic preservation objectives)?
  • What vehicles are used to manage and market cultural resources in downtown (i.e. an arts district, association, dowtown marketing organization, assessment district, etc.)?
  • How are these activities tied to the marketing, programming and management of downtown as a whole?
  • What are the budgets and funding sources for these activities?
  • Who have been the primary facilitators in creating and supporting these structures?
  • Are there non-downtown locations within your region that compete for arts and cultural attractions and audiences?
  • What has been their impact on downtown?
  • Are there maps, directories, marketing materials or other resources available for review?

From Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs site:

Research links