Designate, promote downtown as an arts, cultural district | In Our Opinion

Across the United States, local governments have designated cultural districts in their communities, with remarkable measurable results.

In Maryland, arts and entertainment districts noted a 17 percent growth in new jobs, goods and services, and wages between 2008 and 2010, during the recession.

California’s Coachella Valley, once known as a retirement community, has reemerged as a creative community — and a robust economic engine. According to the National Endowment for the Arts, Coachella Valley’s creative businesses “employ nearly one out of every five persons working in the Coachella Valley and produce a raw impact of close to $1 billion per year.”

The enduring attraction of arts and culture? According to David Malmuth, one of the founders of downtown San Diego’s I.D.E.A. District (so-designated for its focus on innovation, design, education and arts): “[Local governments] need to answer the question, ‘What do people want?’ Artistic, cultural and social experiences are what keep people in a community.”

Downtown Poulsbo has evolved into a cultural district. Promoting it as a cultural district would have positive economic and social impacts on the community.

A Downtown Poulsbo Cultural District designation would draw visitors here for artistic, cultural and social experiences. It would encourage the location of more artistic and cultural businesses and the continued revitalization of downtown’s heritage buildings (Thor’s Hammer and Needle, whose graphic art adorns bodies to skateboard decks, occupies the oldest building in Poulsbo. Bluewater Artworks transformed a dilapidated, vacant appliance building into a vibrant arts center). And it would spur more arts and cultural events.

Visitors to downtown — residents and non–residents alike — can enjoy live poetry at Poulsbohemian Coffeehouse, live performances at the Jewel Box Theatre, historical displays and presentations at the Poulsbo Historical Museum. They can meet artists and watch demonstrations at Bluewater Artworks, Verksted Gallery, Liberty Bay Gallery, Front Street Gallery, Boatworks Gallery, Wide Mouth Frog, and Carrie Goller Gallery. They can meet authors and hear readings at Liberty Bay Books. They can learn and create at The Bead Store, The Dancing Brush and Kitsap Mosaic.

Several downtown businesses, among them Hare & Hounds and Hot Shots Java, provide exhibit space for local artists. Street musicians and artists painting en plein air have enriched and enlivened the downtown streetscape. Ah, and let us not forget the culinary arts in downtown’s restaurants: Spanish, Italian, American, European, Mexican, Nepalese.

In major metropolitan areas and small rural towns, research shows that the arts attract audiences, spur business development, support jobs, and generate government revenue, the NEA reports. “Locally as well as nationally, the arts mean business.”

Times change, but human beings will always have a need for artistic, cultural and social experiences that enrich their lives.


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