Amherst Arts Night Plus recently sent all Town Council candidates a questionnaire about the candidates’ views on arts and culture in Amherst. Being an amateur musician, this excited me. I just finished serving 6 years on the Pioneer Valley Symphony Board of Directors (3 as president) and have played in the symphony as a violist the entire time I have lived here. In fact, in every place I have lived since receiving my B.A., I have sought out community orchestra in which to play. Arts organizations are extremely important to the communities in which they exist.
Here are my brief answers to the three questions posed to the candidates:
What role do you think the arts can play as an economic driver for downtown business?
The arts can be an important economic driver for downtown businesses. Studies have shown that investment in the arts returns more in economic benefits to the towns than the dollar amount invested. An active and vibrant arts scene brings visitors not only for the show or performance itself, but also for dining before or after, hotel stays, or spending time in other businesses while visiting. Amherst’s arts and cultural institutions, if strong and invested in, can help support our dining, retail, and accommodations businesses, making them even stronger.
What opportunities do you see for arts and culture in Amherst that have yet to be realized?
Amherst’s arts scene has grown in the past and continues to grow. We have the FAC, Amherst Cinema, the Arts Walk, many museums and cultural institutions, and performances in a variety of spaces. I believe Amherst has an opportunity to host a dedicated performance venue that could program a wide variety of genres. It could also host more locally owned galleries to allow for the expansion of the arts walk and potentially more art buyers purchasing locally produced art (I think of Boulder, CO’s Arts & Crafts Gallery as an example). The recent adoption of the Percent for Art bylaw will help enliven our public buildings with public art that will continue to attract visitors, similar to the temporary XTCA exhibit. I believe there is room for more temporary exhibits like that one, too.
How can we attract more arts and culture tourism in Amherst that will benefit the downtown?
I believe the key to attracting more arts and culture tourism in Amherst that will benefit downtown is partnerships and publicity. Nearly every arts non-profit struggles with how to get the word out on what is happening. By combining resources and working together, I believe our arts and cultural institutions can expand their publicity circle to reach a wider audience. Further, advertisement of many different arts and culture options in a single brochure or on a single webpage will let potential visitors know that a trip to Amherst isn’t for just a single item—potential visitors will know that they can spend the day or the weekend experiencing a wide range of institutions, galleries, and performances. And, if visitors know that, they may be more likely to make the trip and lengthen their stay, benefiting businesses and well as the arts and cultural institutions. Making it easy for potential visitors to find the information is essential.