What’s one of the most effective ways a city can boost its economy?
One answer: it can back the arts.
That was a theme at the State of the City address in Thousand Oaks last week. A good portion of the presentation was devoted to how that city looks to the arts as one of its economic mainstays, now and in the future.
“The arts are vital to our economy,” Mayor Claudia Bill-de la Peña said at a lunch presentation Dec. 5 attended by more than 250 at California Lutheran University.
Apparently, she’s not alone in that thinking. According to the National League of Cities, arts and culture this year was one of the biggest topics mentioned in state-of-the-city addresses by mayors across the country. In fact, nine out of 10 mayors mentioned arts and culture as central to their cities’ future.
It makes sense. The so-called creative economy is a real thing. And cities – particularly those outside the urban core – can thrive by appealing to professionals, particularly younger ones, who seek out places that have interesting and exciting amenities for their leisure time. A vibrant arts district is a big draw today. So is a great venue for concerts and performances.
Of course, Thousand Oaks is greatly helped by its city-owned Civic Arts Plaza, which includes the 1,800 seat Fred Kavli Theater. We were told at the luncheon that it is the largest performing arts center between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The likes of David Copperfield, BB King and Mikhail Baryshnikov have performed there, but it regularly hosts all manner of community groups.
In a video shown at the luncheon, a 16-year-old dancer said she grew up being inspired by watching performances at the Kavli theater, and now she gets to perform there – and hopefully she is inspiring others.
As I watched her, I thought about those young professionals mentioned a moment ago. I imagined that they aspire to hear their own kids one day say something like that 16-year-old. They want to live and work in a city where their kids can be inspired and inspire others. In other words, the theater is an amenity that makes professional people want to live in Thousand Oaks.
Obviously, funding the arts is not the only thing a city should concentrate on. A business-friendly environment coupled with good schools and low crime is a basic, winning formula. It’s just that as smaller cities strive to boost their economic stature, they often seem to overlook cultural amenities.