Culture Counts: The Arts as an Economic Driver in the Upstate

On Wednesday, January 24th, Ten at the Top and the Chapman Cultural Center will host a Culture Counts forum in Spartanburg. Anthony Radich, executive director of WESTAF (Western States Arts Federation), will give the keynote address, and CCC executive director Jennifer Evins will lead a panel discussion on arts as an economic driver.

As part of the CCC’s Culture Counts initiative, begun in 2013, Evins spearheaded a cultural inventory that led to a roughly four-block area of downtown Spartanburg being designated by the South Carolina Arts Commission as an official Cultural District. That designation, according to the SC Arts Commission, indicates “a geographic area that has a concentration of cultural facilities, activities and assets. It is an area that is easily identifiable to visitors and residents and serves as a center of cultural, artistic and economic activity.”

The cultural district in Spartanburg includes indoor live performance venues, outdoor performance venues, galleries or exhibit spaces, murals and other public art displays, museums, studios and workshops, and more—over 200 cultural assets, with 1,335 events and festivals open to the public.

The Chapman Cultural Center’s Culture Counts initiative helped to harness all of the assets that the city and county had invested in county wide over the years—to the tune of around $54 million, Evins says. “They were serving the residents of our community, but how are we telling the world that Spartanburg is an arts community? We took an economic development strategy and applied it to the arts community and creative people,” she says.

When the SC Arts Commission came up with the Cultural District designation, Spartanburg was ready. “What it did was allow us to create this cultural tourism product by having quantified and mapped our resources,” Evins says. And last November, the city of Greenwood also received the Cultural District designation.

Conducting a wider inventory reveals more than 1,200 such cultural assets across the 10 counties of the Upstate, and just like in Spartanburg, culture counts when it comes to economic vitality. Statewide, arts-related industries had an economic impact of $9.2–$13.3 billion, according to a study conducted by researchers at the Darla Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina using 2008 data.

Having an inventory of all of the Upstate’s cultural assets will allow the region, as a group, to have collective influence with the state legislature as a cultural tourism destination. The reason for bringing Radich in as the keynote speaker, Evins says, is to tap into his broad experience working nationally with legislators to use cultural assets as a tourism strategy. Before WESTAF, he worked as senior project manager for the arts, tourism, and cultural resources committee of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). With that background, he is well suited to give a primer on how other states have successfully worked with their legislatures to include the arts in economic development and as part of the tourism package.

Tim Todd, executive director of Discover Upcountry Carolina Association, sees arts as part of the tourism product. “Tourism is a recipe made up of a lot of different industries,” he says. “Obviously it’s hotels, obviously it’s restaurants, obviously it’s attractions, but then it goes beyond that, to arts culture, museums, festivals and events.”

Todd continues, “The museums we have in the area, the theatre, places like the Peace Center, the performances that are put on at Memorial Auditorium, all the things that go on at Chapman Cultural Center—all those enhance our tourism product, but they also enhance the quality of life and provide things to do, not for visitors, but for the people who live here.”

And not only for the people who currently live here, but for individuals as well as businesses looking at the Upstate to relocate. It’s not just the nuts-and-bolts of jobs and workforce, infrastructure and municipal governance that attracts those looking to relocate—it’s schools, it’s quality of life, it’s having things to do. And that’s why culture counts.

To register for the Culture Counts forum, click here.


Article by Sharon Purvis