An editorial board with Gov. Phil Scott and Times Argus and Rutland Herald editors this week offered a stark reminder that most of the solutions to the state’s economic concerns hinge on luring and keeping more people in our state.
The demographic challenges in Vermont are real, and the limitations have plagued governors for years now. But this governor seems to be feeling it acutely, as his mounting concern over affordability in the state can really only be countered by moving the needle through a bump in the economy from more citizens living here and paying taxes.
Getting people here is easy; our state is a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts. Making them citizens is a challenge.
There are some creative solutions out there.
A study released earlier this week by the National Governors Association suggests “by using the creative sector — specifically, arts and culture assets — governors have a viable approach for strengthening economic opportunities and vibrancy in rural communities.”
The study, “Rural Prosperity Through the Arts and Creative Sector,” demonstrates that arts, culture and creative enterprises often drive economic development in rural areas.
Among the successful, high-profile creative-sector initiatives showcased in the report are three areas in Vermont.
“Vermont, one of the most rural states in the country, has long recognized the importance of arts and culture in energizing communities and building economic value outside of urban population centers,” Vermont Arts Council Executive Director Karen Mittelman said in a news release. “Now, when Vermont is contending with declining population and persistent economic challenges, it is critical for us to harness the potential of the creative sector to catalyze change.”
Among the many initiatives cited in the report, the Vermont Creative Network is featured as an innovative example of a statewide support system for artists and creative entrepreneurs. According to Mittelman, “The Creative Network represents an important statewide commitment to position arts and cultural life at the heart of Vermont’s future.”
The nationwide study also highlights the Danville Transportation Project, completed in 2014, which redeveloped a section of U.S. Route 2 that ran through the center of this small Northeast Kingdom town. The design mandate “was to strengthen the community’s sense of place and celebrate its natural, built, cultural and historical assets. Beyond that mandate, the artists helped resolve major divisiveness in the community over where the highway should be situated and how to keep the village center intact.”
Also featured is the Jeffersonville Silos Project, made possible through a Vermont Arts Council Animating Infrastructure Grant, which brought the community together to hire an artist to create large murals on two abandoned concrete silos.
Clearly a difference is being made — not just in the Green Mountain State, but nationwide.
The report synthesizes a growing body of research showing how arts-based economic development can help communities thrive.
The most recent data produced by the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Arts Endowment shows arts and cultural industries contributed $67.5 billion and employed more than 628,000 workers in our country’s most rural states.
Those are big numbers.
“Governors need fresh, results-oriented approaches that boost economic opportunities, create jobs, retain young people and preserve a great quality of life in our small towns and undeveloped areas,” said Scott Pattison, NGA’s executive director. “Our analysis indicates that leadership from governors and smart public policies can help the creative sector realize its potential as a catalyst of growth and pride in rural communities.”
The authors of the report are correct: When rural regions lose their traditional industries, they can capitalize on their creative assets to re-imagine — and realize — a new future.
Vermont has always made a push to think outside the box. The first steps have been made. And to truly make a difference, we need to do even more.
To read the report, go to https://www.nga.org/ruralarts.