A New Richmond Arts District – Don’t We Have One? By
The City instituted a meals tax back in 1991 to help pay for good stuff like police and firefighters. They upped the ante in 2003 to help pay for Center Stage, and that tax still exists. There are currently various taxes and fees that are specific to arts and entertainment venues and bring a great deal of money to the City. What they are proposing now is a “district” that would give businesses that promote the arts rebates to procure City loans and pay back building permit fees. They would also have entrée into an expedited process for these grants, permits, and other processes that often stall a new business for months on end.
This isn’t a new idea, and isn’t really all that radical. Projects like the Sixth Street Marketplace were designed to connect various areas in such a way that visitors could walk from venues to galleries to restaurants. The current proposal was offered by the Mayor in February of 2011, was tossed back to Council last November for being too small, and is now being debated for real.
We don’t want to get into politics. Not our thing. Too heavy a subject, and if it won’t fit on the head of a spatula we don’t like to pick it up. It seems that anything that the City does to promote arts and entertainment is a good idea. But don’t we already have an Arts and Entertainment District? Isn’t it called Richmond?
Our city has long been known for its history. Richmond has been a hub for business for centuries. We have hosted the State government, and were instrumental in the birth of our Country. But the arts have also been instrumental in our growth. Not to get into a bout of self-promotion, but look at us: We like to cover our walls with art from local and regional artists. We like to offer live entertainment from musicians from around our area. And it continues when you walk out our front door. We are nestled in the Shockoe Design District, and while many of our neighbors are not in the same business as us, they do a great deal to contribute to a creative, invigorating atmosphere. You can walk up the street and see a show at The National. You can go around the corner and see an Ed Trask mural. Head up to the museum district and see DJ Williams. Remember the brouhaha about Art 180? It was right smack dab in the middle of Monument Avenue.
Why is it important that we recognize and contribute to an arts community?
The arts contribute to our quality of life. It enriches us. It gives us a sense of pride, of standing back and saying, “I made this!” It also contributes economically. When people travel past a boarded up building they don’t stop the car. When all of the shops are closed they go home. People attending a concert or a gallery spend money at the venue. Those working at the venue receive a paycheck, which they will contribute to local businesses. Those attending events will spend money at local shops and restaurants. The artists will sell tickets, artwork, and merchandise, and then spend their hard-earned money at local businesses. All of this activity creates a desire for residential and retail development, and the boarded-up businesses start to go away. It all goes around in a great big circle, and comes back to art.
A study by the Piedmont Council for the Arts looked at what the arts and culture industry did for Charlottesville in 2010. It created almost 2,000 full-time jobs, brought in $9.2 million in local and state revenues, and was an economic engine driving almost $115 million in activity. That’s a nice chunk of cabbage. And it sounded nice, was pleasant to look at, and tasted divine.
Politics, like sausage, is a thing better off not seen being made. We think that anything our local pols do to promote our culture is a good thing. We also think that we’re surrounded by it every day. Our entire City is the Richmond Arts District! Go forth and enjoy!