Arts and Culture Districts: Financing, Funding, and Sustaining Them


Research Abstract
Arts and Culture Districts: Financing, Funding, and Sustaining Them

Many cities are asking what more they can do to grow a creative economy. One way is to attract, retain, and nurture the creative and innovative workforce that is so vital in building and developing art and culture districts, particularly downtowns. For good reason, these districts and downtowns have become the “living room” for communities across the country.

They may be called art and culture districts, innovation districts, entertainment districts, business improvement districts, the list goes on; but regardless of title, the goal is always to create vibrant art and culture facilities and at the same time, contribute to growing the “cre-ative enterprises” and the new workforce that are essential to building the new economy.

This essay will focus on the financing, funding, and sustainability of art districts and the efforts underway in the cities of San Diego, Seattle, Baltimore, Dallas, and the state of Massachusetts. Four districts or cities were chosen for a more in-depth discussion, as they seem to represent what is occurring nationwide. The state is one example of a very aggres-sive approach to identifying districts and helping them raise funding.
An attempt to synthesize the experiences each city has had in developing art and cultural presences is difficult because each is so different from the other. Yet, much can be learned by their experiences, and as states undertake the task of designating art and culture dis-tricts, the process of transforming our communities for the new economy accelerates exponentially.

The idea for such districts can come from almost anywhere or anyone, and it is clear that such investments cannot be made unilaterally by mayors or chambers or other leaders within the community. Rather, a successful district only evolves if a network of creative workers, art and culture and economic organizations, developers and architects, and others come together to explore their joint interests and develop a vision and a strategy for rein-venting their community for the creative age.

The sources of funding as well as continuing financing of the district, however defined, are complex and entail a mix of private and public investments in the initial funding as well as continuous financing. For example, the city or the state may provide tax waivers or incen-tives; a state or local designation can enable permits; economic development agencies can point to funding from yet another government agency; private investments can be made; and National Endowment for the Arts “Our Town” grants or Art Place Awards can be sought, which attracts broad-based support. There may also be hotel and tourism taxes or admis-sion taxes that are returned to the district. All potential sources need to be explored.

A plan for continued financing to ensure sustainability of the enterprise is also important. In some cases this may mean, as in the case of Baltimore, MD, private investment each year, or tax waivers and incentives, as well as other fees generated by the district as a whole or its various parts, such as admissions from a performing arts center, art festivals, theaters, or other events within the district. It is also important that the artists, who may have lived in the art and culture district, not be forced to move as the district itself becomes the fashionable and expensive place to live and work. [Introduction]

Americans for the Arts has commissioned five essays spanning the intricacies of arts, entertainment, and cultural districts specifically for policymakers, arts leaders, planning professionals, community development practitioners, and others who are interested in developing new districts or adapting existing ones.

  • Creating Capacity: Strategic Approaches to Managing Arts, Culture, and Entertainment Districts
  • Cultural Districts: Bottom-Up and Top-Down Drivers
  • Cultural Tourism: Attracting Visitors and Their Spending
  • Art and Culture Districts: Financing, Funding, and Sustaining Them
  • State Cultural Districts: Metrics, Policies, and Evaluation

These essays and reports are part of our National Cultural Districts Exchange, where you can find more information on cultural district legislation, case studies, a national district survey, and a collection of webinars.


Eger, John M.

Americans for the Arts
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