Investing in Culture to Enhance Creativity and Social Engagement

Mayors are using the arts to enliven their communities.
Jim Bachor

Editor’s Note: The American Planning Association notes, “Arts and culture strategies help to reveal and enhance the underlying identity — the unique meaning, value and character — of the physical and social form of a community.” Investing in the arts and culture seems like a no-brainer, but these programs can sometimes be the first casualties of budget cuts. For instance, prior to the recession, 20 percent of schools offered dance and theater classes. In the 2009-2010 school year, however, only 3 percent of schools allocated funds for dance classes and only 4 percent for theater, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Mayors understand that an investment in the arts can turn communities into vibrant cultural centers, making them better places to live for residents of all ages. Examples from across the country show how mayors are using the arts to enliven their communities.

In Suwanee, Ga., Mayor Jimmy Burnette supports the arts through the annual Suwanee SculpTour, an event that temporarily displays sculptures by local artists along a one-mile walkway in downtown. The event gives residents an affordable way to incorporate art into their daily lives, encourages them to spend more time outside and boosts economic activity for downtown restaurants and shops.

Former Mayor Michael B. Coleman of Columbus, Ohio, cultivated a vibrant arts scene by working with local organizations to create a digital database of arts programs. The ARTS CLASSifieds database makes it easier for residents to find local arts education classes and activities, encouraging a culture of creativity in the community.

Gary, Ind. Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson believes public art can transform a city, which is what she intends to do with the ArtHouse project. Through the project, an underutilized 15,000-square-foot building will turn into a cultural hub for art programs and culinary arts training.

As Mayor Kim Driscoll of Salem, Mass., says, “The arts create new ways to experience our city and play an important role in our community.” An investment in the arts can also:

  • Foster creativity and enhance recreational opportunities for citizens of all ages
  • Provide a sense of place, making a community a destination for people to stop and visit 
  • Bring citizens together through shared experiences


Listen to Nancy's conversation with Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll on earning the poltical capital to incorporate public are into the life of your city.

Listen below. You can also subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher, and check out our archives.

Learn more about how mayors are investing in the arts and enhancing culture in their communities.