Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Culture is a Part of a Community's Infrastructure

I’ve been asked for some time to post this blog that I originally posted to the Inter-neighborhood Council of Durham listserv.

From: Reyn Bowman
Sent: Thursday, June 05, 2008 4:12 PM

Subject: RE: INC NEWS -

I only imagine the bind City officials feel but a vibrant and indigenous cultural landscape is just as crucial a part of this community’s infrastructure, as streets, sewer and water, open space, greenways, bike paths and much, much more.

The days when corporate philanthropy filled the funding void for non-profits is vanishing…everywhere. But especially here, where many of our largest corporations now distribute half or more of their philanthropy where commuter employees live rather than the community where they are based.

We can lament it and decry it but it is what it is. We need new paradigms.

Funding for many things including the arts has fallen back on local government. It might be frustrating but we can’t just push them out and expect cake sales and car washes to sustain them at the level of excellence necessary to sustain our quality of life and economic well-being. Just because, like sports, they may evolve from enthusiasts, doesn’t mean they don’t serve a central purpose for the entire community.

The weaning process may have been premature, no matter how well communicated or well intended. We need Durham’s legendary creativity to evolve a coherent system for self-funding the arts, e.g. a dedicated admissions tax which would function as a user fee.

But we also need a coherent way of making decisions about cultural facilities and how to hold arts groups accountable and to determine obsolescence. All easier said than done.

A great deal of our cultural landscape has already eroded. And once gone, it can be very quickly be replaced by McArts or generica and be almost impossible to restore. Places that look like they went shopping for culture one day and brought back one of everything don’t thrive in the long term.

We must solve this problem and I believe together we can.

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