Building downtown arts and cultural districts

The arts are emerging as a potent force in the economic life of cities and rural areas nationwide.  Would you have ever thought that the gallery walks, art and design fairs, or the downtown artist studio spaces would have a proven, significant impact on your local economy? 

Two recent studies have indicated that communities who invest in the arts reap the additional benefits of jobs, economic growth, and an increased quality of life. 

In the United States, total event-related spending by nonprofit arts and culture audiences was an estimated $103.1 billion (Arts & Economic Prosperity III, Americans for the Arts).  The arts generated $849 million in revenue for Virginia businesses, provided 18,850 full- and part-time jobs, and produced $307 million in value-added income for Virginia’s workforce and entrepreneurs (The Role of the Arts in Economic Development, National Governors Association Center for Best Practices).

So what are some ways that your community can tap into this prosperous trend? 

In its 2009 session, the Virginia General Assembly passed HB 1735.  This bill grants local governments the authority to create arts and cultural districts.  Localities who establish such a district have the authority to grant tax incentives and provide certain regulatory flexibility, such as reduction of permit fees, special zoning and exemption from ordinances, to stimulate and incentivize arts and cultural activities.

Learn how you can take advantage of this enabling legislation by joining your fellow community leaders from across the state in Fredericksburg on May 15 for a leadership conference to discover the tools for Building Arts and Cultural Districts in your downtown.  The conference is intended to help move the agenda statewide to foster economic incentives supporting arts and cultural activities.  Download registration brochure online at:

Recap: Virginia Main Street communities host informal (and informational) sessions

Two recent regional Virginia Main Street gatherings in the Southwest Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley offered an opportunity share resources and discuss current issues in an informal setting.

In Marion, Main Street Manager Ken Heath hosted a group of nine at the Marion Town Hall for an update on the stimulus package and new efforts in the Town of Marion, including the green re-use of the Pepsi bottling plant by First Fruits bottling company. The group took  a downtown walking tour, visited the Sprit of Appalachia Gallery, and had a dutch-treat lunch at Handsome Molly’s Bistro and Wine Shop

Participating communities included Wise, Abingdon, and Richlands. The next Southwest regional gathering will be hosted by Advance Abingdon.

Eddie Bumbaugh of Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance hosted the Shenandoah Valley meeting attended by five communities, Front Royal, Staunton, Woodstock, Waynesboro, Timberville.  The lunch meeting was held at the Blue Nile, a popular downtown Ethiopian restaurant housed in a recent historic rehabilitation tax credit project. The exotic tastes stimulated conversation about the International Chili Society, downtown living at Harrisonburg’s Urban Exchange, Staunton’s work on an Arts and Cultural District and developing downtown advocacy.

The next Shenandoah regional meeting will be hosted again by Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance in October.

What you can (and should) do now

There is a lot of new information that indicates that the economy may be nearing recovery.  Although layoffs continue, home sales are increasing,  construction is up ever so slightly and energy prices are rising, too.  

All three are indications that people have adjusted to the recent changes and there is some pent up demand.  Add to those three indicators the news that many industries that slowed or stopped production now have low levels of inventory, and one might think happy days are here again.

So, what should you be doing to strengthen your business or organization now?  We’ve written about some of these before, but Entrepreneur magazine offers 14 Things Smart Leaders are Doing Right Now, while Inc. magazine offers 30 classic examples of innovation

Now is a great time to get your Web site in top notch order, as the last thing you want is for it to go down for repairs or updates when the hits are coming in from new customers.

Of course, maybe you have recently lost your job.  Businessweek says that recessions may be the perfect time to start a new business and offers advice on how to grow your startup in tough times.

Right now may also be a good time to investigate some new technologies and see if they fit your needs.  Inc. magazine has a few ideas to knock around like these Web sites that may help, or Ten Ways Texting May Help Your Business

If you have a little downtime, this is a long article about one of the most innovative and succesful entrepreneurs of the past decade, Tony Hsieh (pronounced “Shay”), of  It’s definitely worth the time to read, as his approach to decision making is a little extraordinary and extremely interesting.  Here is another interview with Hsieh.

What’s new at your community’s farmers’ market?

It’s farmers’ market season, and judging from the reported crowds out at Virginia’s markets the first weekend in May, it’s been a long winter for many of us. We’re eager to get back out there, reusable grocery totes in hand.

Thank you farmers’ market managers. Efforts to build and sustain a vibrant market can create a center for community as well as an outlet for local farmers. But it does take a lot of planning, work, and coordination.

As the season gears back up, Ten Principles for a Successful Farmers’ Market, an online resource developed by the Farmers’ Market Federation of New York is a quick review of basic practices for both emerging and longstanding markets. Is the vendor pricing structure right? Is there a mission statement for the market? What audience is the marketing plan aimed at? Are there community organizations that haven’t yet gotten involved with the farmers’ market and who might just be a natural fit?

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Virginia Grown program maintains a number of resources that can be enlisted to support your local market, including a public list of local farmers’ markets, a consumer’s chart of availability of Virginia produce, recipes, and resources for teachers and students.

Many of these tools can be put to use, creating an educational component or engaging shoppers in the food around them. 4-H or scouts might want to set up an educational display, or a women’s club might want to offer free recipes that incorporate the produce. The character of each market is created from the community and vendors who use it, and the opportunities are boundless.

This summer, submit your tips for farmers’ market tips for creating community energy by sending them to: We’ll share your story with other communities throughout the summer.