Sunday, July 6, 2008

Cultural Tourism

It is not enough for some people to respect and appreciate the contribution of the arts to a vibrant community. Music, crafts, jewelry, painting, pottery, iron work, sculpture, wood working, drama, poetry, dance, creative writing, film, and the other talents of local artists help us understand and celebrate the richness of the human condition in our Fayetteville. It is a reflection of the intrinsic value of the creative spirit, but it is not always a source of income for commercial businesses or even individual artists.

There are those who think the arts and their celebration deserve no public support. They say that the arts should support themselves and make a profit. That's the kind of thinking that led John White to try closing the University of Arkansas Press. That's the kind of thinking that will assure the Walton Arts Center will be moving its headquarters to Benton County. That's the kind of thinking that our Advertising and Promotion Commission has about the Fayetteville Arts Festival.

Fayetteville Cowbird President Bill Ramsey recently reflected with pride about how the Chamber conceived and provided financial support for Bikes, Blues, and BBQ. That event now brings in more than 300,000 people to spend money, make noise, litter streets, and celebrate ... what? Is that event a reflection of our indigeneous culture, or is it a party thrown to make money? Does it represent the soul of our community, or is it just a Cowbird thing with no particular purpose or message other than making money and taking credit? Whichever, I don't remember the Cowbirds contributing financial support for the Fayetteville Arts Festival.

Now comes Mayor Dan Coody trying to pitch "cultural tourism" as part of an economic development strategy. Maybe that's all it is, or maybe that's the only way local business owners will be convinced to support the arts. Anyway, Dan's big new idea is the same old idea he has always had -- hire another city employee, this time to be in charge of promoting festivals, coordinating volunteers, and planning events. Isn't that something that could be done by Coody's underworked Economic Development Director Ray Boudreaux or Advertising and Promotion Commission Director Marilyn Heifner and her numerous staff members living off over a million dollars a year in tax money? You would think so.

You might also think that the A&P Commission, sitting on over $2 million in unallocated funds from taxpayers, would authorize $35,000 for the Fayetteville Arts Festival when it meets tomorrow. Dan Coody and Robert Rhoads are on the Commission, along with five local business people. Let's see who thinks what about the value of the arts in Fayetteville.

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