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Supporting the arts as economic development

March 31, 2017 / Carolina Small Business / Economy, Small Business

The Asheville Citizen-Times has features a story on the various ways artists in the city find ways to make ends meet and stay in Western North Carolina. Asheville, and the broader western region, is famous for its creative and entrepreneurial culture. National Geographic describes the city as an “experimental epicenter” where “reinventing the rules is an Asheville tradition—be it visual art, cool crafts, funky music, theater or film.”

But the place that was once coined “America’s new freak capital,” Asheville has now become one of the most expensive cities in North Carolina.  Just this year, the Citizen-Times reported that Asheville ranked second for cities in the US that are gentrifying the fastest, with median home prices jumping from $125,000 in 2000 to $235,000 in 2015. The steep rise in the cost of living has made it difficult for the artists and creatives in Asheville to stay in the city. As observed by Realtor.com, which ranked the fastest gentrifying cities, “…the quirky, creative characters who once defined the city are vanishing.”

Given this context, there is a growing divide in Asheville between lower- and moderate-income residents, including artists, who are finding it increasingly difficult to keep up with the cost of living. The Citizen-Times’ most recent article that asks, “How does an artist afford Asheville?” provides insights into how artists manage, and how they deal with fluctuations in an industry heavily impacted by tourism.

Many work multiple part-time jobs, which leaves little energy and time for creative endeavors. Others work for commissions within their creative specialties or teach, but that also impacts the ability of artists to create. Social media has helped some artist build a following and sell work outside of galleries. The article also points to the River Arts District as one of the ways the city has tried to support artists. Its 25 buildings house more than 200 artists who work in all types of mediums. It is estimated that public support for the RAD will total $50 million by 2023, 44 percent from state and federal funds.

Our Western Women’s Business Center (WWBC) is also working to support artists. Through an 8-week Creative Industry Management course artists learn how develop a business plan, how to work best with their portfolio, how to effectively set up a gallery, and how to access to capital. We have had 60 artists complete this program. We have a partnership with the Asheville Area Arts Council, providing technical assistance and one-on-one counseling to its constituents on a monthly basis. Also our upcoming WWBC conference in June will feature a session dedicated to artists on sales techniques and presentations, facilitated by local arts consultant Wendy Outland. All of these efforts aim to increase the business and entrepreneurial skills for those in creative industries to make their endeavors more sustainable.

Graduates of the Creative Industry Management course

Graduates of the Creative Industry Management course

It is certainly worth it for the city and state to continue supporting the arts in Asheville and beyond. The North Carolina Arts Council reports that creative occupations accounted for 6 percent of the state’s workforce in 2014, and had seen an increase of 14 percent from 2006. Creative industries produce $25.1 billion in revenues and $10 billion in exports, and generated $14 billion in earnings for North Carolina workers. Beyond the numbers, the artists and creative industries make up the character and fabric of cities like Asheville. Supporting the arts and creating industries as a viable way to support oneself is good for artists, communities, and visitors.