Mike Ash: The arts help in boosting Lexington's economic vitality

April 17, 2014 

As the 2014 Fund for the Arts campaign is underway this spring, I want to highlight what is increasingly clear about this campaign as distinct from past campaigns.

Many of us can tell that the caliber and the number of arts exhibits, performances and projects have grown quite a bit over the past several years.

That growth means more for us and our families to enjoy, but there is an added benefit most of us probably don't appreciate. It is our arts community's significant contribution to the health and prosperity of our local economy.

First there are the hard numbers. Nearly $20 million in economic activity is generated each year and over 700 jobs are supported by the arts and culture industry in Lexington.

And with that comes $2 million in state and local tax revenue. For every dollar that an arts organization spends, another $1.20 in economic activity is generated in Central Kentucky.

That's a good return and important to our economy.

Now let's talk about more intangible assets that are equally if not more important — even to a banker.

It's about the favorable profile our arts community gives Lexington when its work and performances garner notice outside our region.

I applaud the Lexington Philharmonic for winning national grants for innovation. Institute 193 is written about in art journals and media all over the country. And even CNN has covered new, creative arts projects right here in Lexington.

These type of activities make Lexington more competitive for the kinds of businesses and professionals we want to come here to fuel our growth.

Lexington is getting noticed and benefiting from our arts community and the partnerships it has with local business. That message is underscored by LexArts' Arts Mean Business Forum that was presented recently.

Anne Gadwa Nicodemus, a noted expert on creative placemaking, proffered that the arts provide not only an economic engine, but also a social engine that can transform communities.

Jobs are now following people, and the social personality of a city is a defining element in many corporations' relocation decisions.

So how do we achieve more?

At Fifth Third Bank, we invest in the Fund for the Arts as a corporate citizen, certainly, but we also engage our employees through a workplace giving program. Last year alone our employees gave more than $20,000, and we are very proud of that. But beyond the pride, our employees feel more connected and more invested in our community. We all want to live and work in a vibrant community, and the arts make that possible.

Last year, over 700 employees at 34 companies donated $94,273 through this program. Just think about it. We could do so much more.

If only 4,000 local workers donated $5 a week — barely a single lunch — to the Fund for the Arts, we could double what we raised for the entire Fund for the Arts campaign last year. Now think about the return for our economy I mentioned earlier.

We all benefit from the arts. It's as simple as that. If you're a business owner, please consider a Fund for the Arts workplace giving program for your company.

As an employee, encourage your company to engage a workplace giving program. It's fun, simple and brings the arts to your office. The dollars that we endow in the arts all stay at home, and it is one of the best investments around.

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