Olive Avenue Confidential: We've got to have arts

When council members voted earlier this month to convene a citizens' commission on the arts, I'm sure I wasn't the only one wondering whether yet another city board or panel — Burbank already has two dozen of them — was really the answer to anything.

But after considering the mission of the coming Cultural Arts Commission and all the positive contributions it can make to this city, I realized it was pretty hokey that we've gone so long without one.

For a place that bills itself the Media Capital of the World, Burbank's done a pretty dismal job over the years of promoting and supporting its homegrown arts and culture scene.

This longstanding absence of vision amounts to a doubly wasted opportunity in that cultural endeavors contribute greatly to both the quality of life and economic growth of communities.

For anyone who's ever attended a concert or seen a play, the quality-of-life impacts are easy to understand.

What so often gets overlooked, though, are art's economic benefits.

Community planners have for years argued that cultural opportunities attract residents and businesses that help drive economic growth, a reality becoming all the more apparent in our increasingly information-driven society.

The national advocacy group Americans for the Arts takes the idea — and the evidence — a step further with their Arts & Economic Prosperity reports, which spell out in real numbers how nonprofit arts organizations fuel the economy by creating jobs, generating visitor spending and using local goods and services.

At the national level, the nonprofit arts industry has been generating annual economic activity in the range of $166 billion, according to the group, which takes into account the spending of both organizations and their patrons.

Both Pasadena, a leader in civic arts involvement, and neighboring Glendale have participated in localized Americans for the Arts surveys that point out the need for Burbank to maximize the success and visibility of our local arts scene.

In 2005, Glendale nonprofit arts groups generated $12 million in economic activity within the city, including $7 million in event-related expenditures above and beyond admission costs.

In Pasadena, where support for the arts is a city priority, nonprofit arts organizations generated $180 million, including $5.3 million in local government revenue — nearly twice Burbank's annual take from traffic fines and three times Burbank's yearly business tax revenue.

Numbers like that should grab all of our attentions, and if the city acts by Nov. 30, Burbank can be part of the next Arts & Economic Prosperity survey.

As the Burbank Leader's Gretchen Meier reported, initially reluctant city officials have authorized up to $50,000 in funding for Cultural Arts Commission activities, starting with the launch of Burbankarts.com — a comprehensive arts resource database, events marketing tool and social networking website.

In addition to providing residents and visitors with greater knowledge of Burbank's cultural offerings, the site will also be a platform for local arts organizations to share information and coordinate activities.

In short, it's a recipe for growth.

"If arts organizations can act under one umbrella, they'll have a louder and obviously more concrete voice," said Mayor Anja Reinke, who helped develop the Burbank Cultural Arts Plan and made starting a Cultural Arts Commission a campaign issue.

Reinke is pushing for a citywide cultural festival next year to celebrate Burbank's centennial and, by showing off all the city has to offer, promote the city as a regional arts destination.

Considering the tremendous success of Pasadena's biannual ArtNight events and triennial Art&Ideas Festival, this should be nothing short of a boon for local business — and city pride.

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FYI

The city clerk's office is accepting applications to the Burbank Cultural Arts Commission through Oct. 6. Call (818) 238-5851 or visit http://www.ci.burbank.ca.us.

JOE PIASECKI is an Annenberg Fellow with USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and a contributing editor for the Pasadena Weekly. He can be reached at piasecki@usc.edu.

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