It is encouraging to see businesses and artists working together in Omak to increase the vitality of what has been a suffering downtown core with too many vacant storefronts.
Writer K.C. Mehaffey wrote a compelling front-page artiicle about the ARTscapes project, sponsored by the Methow Arts Alliance, that has local artists using empty stores to work and showcase their talents.
It’s a fascinating idea that has worked successfully in small and large markets because the benefits are spread widely. Most artists couldn’t afford to rent in those spaces, so they benefit from free exposure to the public and potentially sell more art. Participating building owners benefit because they won’t have vacant storefronts and instead community members and visitors will stop by and watch people like Bruce Townsend-Cook, a glass and metal artists from Riverside, create and display art.
The community benefits because it gives people more things to do downtown. What better way than the creation of unique art to inspire people to get excited about the future of the community and perhaps reverse what has been in decline..
The project also increases the likelihood that someone will get excited about opening a retail store or doing some other development in the community.
I suspect many of us don’t fully appreciate how art could be an economic driver in a community. The subject came up last year when the American Institute of Architects sent a team to the Wenatchee valley to suggest creative ways to build community.
The architects saw that not only could the public art in the two communities could be enhanced to encourage more destination visitors. Small communities need to use every possible tool to thrive in a competitive environment.
There’s another benefit to raising the profile of art in our communities — aesthetics matter, although sometimes I think our communities get high-centered on the notion that improving the visual appeal of our communities is somehow a waste of money. Looking at the recently completed bridge construction at the south end of Wenatchee, it sure seems that with a modest additional investment, some additional artistic elements could have been added. Maybe we need to be pushing for doing more than the minimum.
Communities that want to attract high-paying jobs, innovative companies and entrepreneurs have to put their best foot forward to demonstrate that they care about their community. You have to build a community people want to live in and the aesthetics of the community are a clear sign of the commitment to a high-performance community. So it is worth reconsidering our default approach of “let’s do it the cheapest way possible.”
Those are things that occurred to me as I read about what Omak is doing to find new ways to have businesses work together with artists to build a stronger, more resilient community. The town of Twisp is considering its own ARTscape project and other communities ought to take heed of this creative concept and see how it might be applied. There are discussions afoot in the Wenatchee Valley to do something similar, and that is a positive development.