Panel: Arts the next economic frontier of Columbus

Jackie Mantey, Columbus Alive

Yesterday a packed house at the Wexner Center's Mershon Auditorium listened to a prestigious panel talk about the relationship between arts and economic development in Columbus.

Limited Brands CEO Les Wexner, Mayor Michael Coleman, Columbus Foundation president Doug Kridler and National Endowment for the Arts chairman Rocco Landesman all congratulated the city on its successful arts programs.

"There's not a speech I give today where I don't mention the Short North," Landesman said. "It is the poster child of revitalization."

They also spoke on how to nurture similar success in the future.

"Arts and culture is the new frontier for our community," Coleman said. "We're a modest people, but we have so much to offer… We need to have a little bit more swagger. It's time to poke our chests out a little bit."

He pointed to Franklinton and the King-Lincoln District as up-and-coming hot spots for the Columbus creative class. The $150,000 Our Town Grant the NEA awarded Columbus, he said, would help create an open marketplace for art during the city's bicentennial next year. Having a place for artists to sell is just as important as having a place for them to create, he said.

Wexner seconded the importance of considering the business behind the arts, noting a discussion he once had with renowned choreographer Twyla Tharp. She said, "If I can't do things that have an economic value, then I really am challenged."

"Take advantage of this moment of austerity," Wexner said. "Get out amongst the customers. Really understand what you are selling."

When an audience member raised the question about how to make art accessible to everyone in the community, Wexner also spoke on elitism and art.

"There's no reason Columbus should have the best children's science museum in the country, other than it does," he said. "This idea that arts are elite… if you let them, they can be. But so can hamburgers."

He recommended organizations get engaged with their audiences. This leads to recruiting more supporters, which leads to more leverage for funding, which leads to more art opportunity, which leads to a greater good.

Money aside, what the arts community needs, Kridler said, is confidence. Steps the community can take include heavily researching their market to enhance earned income, supporting the Greater Columbus Arts Council's advocacy for the community, and supporting the emergence of champions for the arts in Columbus.

"Have the confidence that you have a good story to tell," Kridler said. "You are the creative engine for the economy here."