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Originally published Wednesday, June 17, 2009 at 10:56 AM

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The arts can be part of economic solutions

During these difficult economic times, the arts can be part of the solution, write guest columnists Robert L. Lynch and Gene Duvernoy. With investment, the arts can bounce back fast and strong, generating more local jobs and economic activity than most other industries.

Special to The Times

THE arts are part of everyday life in Seattle, a part of our environment, a part of our economy. But like most other "industries" today, the recession has hit the nonprofit arts sector hard. Nationwide, symphonies, museums, opera companies and local heritage groups report employee layoffs and budget shortfalls.

But during these challenging financial times, the arts are part of the solution. With investment from all sectors, the arts can bounce back fast and strong, generating more local jobs and economic activity than most other industries.

Seattle's dynamic arts community results in part because local leaders have a clear understanding the arts are essential to the health and vitality of our communities. Seattle is an international leader in climate change, urban design, environmental stewardship and a pioneer of public art. Arts, culture and creativity are among our greatest resources.

Americans for the Arts, the leading nonprofit organization for advancing the arts in America, will hold its annual convention in Seattle Thursday through Saturday, attracting more than 1,100 leaders of the arts community to discuss effective cultural and environmental policies under the theme "Renewable Resources: Arts in Sustainable Communities."

We are a nation of vibrant, innovative urban areas. It is the reason regional initiatives such as The Cascade Agenda link art and the environment so closely. The arts can help us address the pressing needs we face in climate change, economic growth and education. And if we are to be effective stewards of the natural environment, we must be stewards of the urban environment. Our cities must be great places to live if we are to have any hope of conserving our natural areas. Art and culture are key to making cities places people want to live.

And the arts are an "industry." Nonprofit arts organizations are proud members of the business community — employing people locally, purchasing goods and services within the community, and deeply involved in the marketing and promotion of their cities. The numbers are significant: Nationally, nonprofit arts organizations and their audiences generate $166.2 billion in economic activity, 5.7 million jobs, and nearly $30 billion in government revenue every year.

And in Seattle alone, nonprofit arts groups and their audiences provide $330 million in economic impact and generate more than $26 million in local and state tax revenues. Additionally, Seattle is home to 4,065 arts-related businesses that employ 21,025 people — highest arts businesses per capita in the nation.

But with the economy in dramatic reset, we can no longer expect development to occur the way it has in the past. Today provides an opportunity to bring a renewed focus on our community — both the green community of forests, farmlands and parks and the built community of neighborhoods, the arts, and cultural institutions and business.

We call on Seattle's public officials and business leaders to support policies that not only ensure artists and arts organizations have access to affordable living and work spaces, but also that arts and culture are part of smart growth, such as the development that will grow around the new light-rail line.

Seattle has a rich history of its arts groups recognizing the importance of protecting our region's lands and waters. The Olympic Sculpture Park was once a contaminated industrial site before the Seattle Art Museum transformed it into a nine-acre oasis of green and a world-renowned cultural attraction.

We need to move swiftly to develop more spaces in Seattle like the Olympic Sculpture Park. Even during tough economic times, art will make cities places where we want to live.

Robert L. Lynch is president and CEO of Americans for the Arts, the nation's leading nonprofit for advancing the arts, and is based in Washington, D.C. Gene Duvernoy is president of the Cascade Land Conservancy.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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