Posted Dec 01, 2008 @ 10:45 AM
Last update Dec 01, 2008 @ 10:58 AM

Much has been made over the past year about the “arts explosion” in Stark County, and rightfully so. Despite the bleak economic forecasts that seem to dominate headlines on a daily basis, one of the bright spots in our community has been the amazing surge of enthusiasm for the arts.

The arts have always been an integral part of Stark County’s heritage, and the amount of talent in the community is not new. What is new is the priority that has been placed on the role of the arts in overall community development.

It has not been by accident.

Numerous studies in recent years have shown that cities with dynamic arts programs are successful on many fronts. Local leaders have wisely taken note of this, and they have capitalized on of one of our most unique resources to stimulate regional economic growth.

Research shows that arts-rich cities have thriving entertainment districts, and they tend to become destination points for tourism and regional commerce. Businesses are more likely to locate in areas that have points of interest built around the arts. These cities are more likely to attract and keep young professionals and college graduates. Community arts activities tend to redirect the energies of troubled youth into productive activities, creating hope for struggling neighborhoods.

The emphasis on the arts in Stark County is, indeed, bringing about many of these benefits to our community.

Arts In Stark grants have funded public art projects, neighborhood revitalization programs, partnerships between businesses and artists, educational programs, etc. Chambers of Commerce have actively supported arts activities, bringing new interest to downtown areas. Cities have become attractive places to visit, and companies enjoy entertaining visiting clients with a rich selection of arts events.

The arts alone cannot bring about economic recovery, but they certainly do help to enhance and promote other essential development activities. Conversely, other worthwhile programs could fail without including the arts as part of development plans.

The Ohio Arts and Crafts Guild relocated to Canton from Lexington, Ohio, in 2007, in large part due to the strong emphasis on the arts in the area.

Representing more than 400 artists and crafts persons across the state and in other states, OACG is a statewide nonprofit organization that has been in existence since 1963. We moved to the downtown Canton arts district because we saw opportunities for member artists and crafts persons, and we saw an opportunity for our organization to be a part of a new movement in the arts in general.

We have not been disappointed. Many of our members have been amazed by what they see happening in Canton, and they look to us as a model for what can happen in other regions.

For this movement to succeed, however, it needs support from the community. Financial giving to nonprofit arts organizations is one valuable method of providing support.

Another way to support the arts is to patronize local art galleries as you do your holiday shopping. Unique art and craft items, tickets to local performances and gift certificates for restaurants featuring local musical talent all make special gifts, and they regenerate excitement in the local economy.

The Canton Special Improvement District and ArtsInStark have planned “Shop Hops” in the downtown arts district on the first three Fridays in December from 6 to 10 p.m., including First Friday, to invite shoppers to enjoy a truly entertaining shopping experience for the holidays.

The OACG and other downtown galleries and studios invite you to come visit us during the holiday season, and we encourage you to continue supporting your community through the arts.

Vicki Boatright is executive director of the Ohio Arts and Crafts Guild. She lives in Canton.