By Alicia Petska
Lynchburg’s new grant program for the arts generated eye-popping dividends in its first year, local officials say.
“I was astounded when I saw the figures,” said Economic Development Director Marjette Upshur, whose office administers the city-created grant. “There are just some really, really incredible things happening.”
In fiscal year 2012, City Council approved the creation of a grant program dedicated to supporting events within the James River Arts & Cultural District.
The district, created by council in 2010, encompasses the many cultural destinations around downtown, lower Rivermont Avenue and Fifth Street up to Old City Cemetery.
The art district name was given to promote collaboration among agencies and create a marketing platform for the area.
Council agreed it wanted to use the district’s future amusement tax yield to find ways to reinvest in the area; amusement taxes are paid on admissions to events.
The grant program was created to fulfill that promise. In its first year, $30,000 in local amusement taxes was dedicated to the program, and another $5,000 was secured through a state grant.
The grant money was split up among 12 organizations and helped put on events ranging from film series and festivals to operas and ballets.
Officials estimate the $35,000 given produced a $613,000 economic benefit — a more than 17-to-1 return on investment.
The economic impact analysis used commonly accepted industry multipliers that consider factors like other spending event-goers will do while out on the town, and what performers and vendors are paid to put on an event, officials said.
Krista Boothby, executive director of the James River Council for the Arts & Humanities, said the economic incentive for supporting the arts is too often overlooked.
“I think sometimes there’s a sort of fear of spending money on the arts, that it might be seen as frivolous,” Boothby said. “But if you look at — even just in our own spectrum — at places like Charlottesville, Roanoke and Richmond, their local leaders have made the effort to spend a little on the arts and have really seen it come back to revitalize their communities and make them more livable and vibrant.”
“There’s a real economic spread to that money … And we have to remember, if we want people to come live here and spend money here, then they’re going to want things to do. They’re going to want to feel like their community is happening.”
Boothby said she feels Lynchburg’s art district has become a happening place with more and more events popping up, including unique new offerings like Garagefest and the return of old community favorites like the James River Batteau Festival.
The batteau festival was among the 2012 art district grant recipients. The grants are funded by the city, but awarded by a citizens committee based on criteria like public enrichment and economic impact.
The program gives priority to applicants who don’t rely solely on the grant for funding. Recipients reported spending a total of $203,700 on their projects.
The Academy of Fine Arts, another 2012 recipient, used its funding to put on song-writing workshops in Lynchburg’s elementary schools as part of a larger initiative to celebrate children and the arts.
The children wrote and performed original songs inspired by other students’ artwork, which was displayed in the academy’s art gallery.
“If you could have seen the pride these children had as their pieces were projected and the other kids sang a song inspired by their work; it was a very moving experience,” said Ted Batt, exhibitions curator for the academy. “I think programs like this can be a real catalyst for children to pursue the visual arts if that is something they feel called to do.”
The academy plans to hold another youth art exhibit in March and hopes to make it an annual event.
“I think it’s just going to keep getting bigger and better,” Batt said.