Thursday, August 27, 2009

Why’s Everybody Always Picking On Me?

Remember the kid who was always picked on in school? No reason. Maybe he was a little different is all. And once someone gets picked on, it seems easier for others to stigmatize that person, while inexplicably, others became favorites and could do no wrong.

Well, while typical bullies aren’t involved, a similar inequality or discrimination occurs in the treatment of various elements of the cultural infrastructure. A particular facility gets cast in an unfavorable light. Sometimes it is due to a timely sound-bite, sometimes the news media doesn’t have time to connect all of the dots, sometimes local government isn’t as careful to discuss overall revenue generated or associated at the same time it does specific expenses, or it gets a bit complicated to follow. And once a facility is stigmatized, well it usually doesn’t matter what the facts are in the court of public opinion.

The “kid” or cultural facility that gets picked on with cultural facilities often seems to be the Durham Convention Center. It is a little different like that kid in school. It may not be as glamorous. Maybe it isn’t shielded by powerful or influential Godparents. And often reports don’t give the whole picture.

DCVB doesn’t play favorites. The Bureau’s job is to generate visitation or visitor circulation and spending as a part of making each of these facilities sustainable. Each is valuable for equally compelling reasons and each relies on visitors for 60%-70% of its audience.

So in an attempt to provide perspective for news reporters and officials and the teams reporting on each facility, DCVB began three or four years ago to track cost/benefit for a select handful of cultural facility examples including:
  • Attendance
  • Economic Value Added
  • Local Government Operating Cost
  • Local Government Capital Cost
  • Local Tax Revenue Generated
  • The Gap (cost to tax revenue generated)

It is apparent from the results that the facilities may have different audience types and cost structures but in the end they compare favorably. Now the challenge is for people to access this information in a timely manner as issues arise, to challenge stigmas and treat with equal respect our community’s cultural infrastructure.

An even bigger discussion is why some people go beyond improving and measuring performance and somehow believe cultural infrastructure can and should even be self-supporting when that formula is not applied to other parts of the community infrastructure, e.g,. streets, water systems, sewers, government buildings, etc.

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