Exciting cultural activity is one of the major draws for people deciding whether to move into a new community. Artistic activity encourages creativity and innovation that in turn drive entrepreneurial energy, resulting in new jobs and retaining talent. Arts corridors and heritage sites in cities and rural hamlets across Central New York attract residents and visitors, giving rise to bustling main streets and the hospitality and tourism industries.
So how can we, as a community, as neighborhoods, as a region, collectively leverage our robust cultural landscape to invigorate the economy, encourage development and tourism and meet the needs of Central New Yorkers who may not have the access to cultural hubs or offerings that are relevant to their experiences?
We at CNY Arts posed this question to help us begin developing a road map for the first regional cultural plan developed specifically for Central New York. Launched in June 2013, Engage CNY gathered input from more than 7,000 Central New Yorkers, hundreds of artists and more than 110 arts, culture and heritage organizations.
From all walks of life, residents of six counties along with community leaders in education, government and businesses came together to help CNY Arts work on a practical approach to improve, promote and grow the cultural resources in communities throughout our region.
We asked the community last year to tell us what they think, and 7,222 residents responded through the Engage CNY cultural survey. We learned many things, including that Central New Yorkers believe that arts, creativity and innovation are a high priority in regard to community and regional identity (90 percent), contribute to the economic vitality of the region (84 percent) and build tourism (88 percent).
People in Central New York take part regularly in cultural and entertainment activities throughout the year, with almost three-quarters of respondents reporting they paid to attend live performances during the past year and most (61 percent) responding that they attend four to nine events each year. We learned that a great majority enjoy concerts above all other kinds of arts and entertainment, and that theater, musicals, film, festivals and reading are also in the top 10. And more than 70 percent of those surveyed believe that arts education is very important in their children’s in-school and after-school programming.
More than 500 people joined us in a series of 52 focus groups, where we held conversations about cultural priorities and goals. We heard that people believe arts and culture create bridges between races and classes. We heard stories that some experience obstacles to creative opportunities, which participants said should be accessible regardless of income, race or geography. And we heard that many are not sure where to find comprehensive information about what is being offered in the region.
Finally, more than 120 community leaders met at a summit in February. The overarching goal was to create strategies to move forward with a comprehensive regional plan. First, this group looked at all the data collected and ideas shared, including an extensive cultural inventory of Onondaga, Oneida, Oswego, Cortland, Herkimer and Madison counties. Three priorities emerged: to increase awareness of Central New York’s cultural and creative assets; to better support the health of Central New York’s cultural and creative assets; and to increase cultural opportunity and participation. From this foundation, strategies were defined to begin to ensure priorities would reach their goals.
The regional cultural plan that has emerged is a comprehensive one that can be achieved in a decade. We have already started with the first steps. Engage CNY has helped us to increase our networks and encourage collaborative partnerships among our for-profit and nonprofit organizations, including arts, social service, local government and business agencies.
We invite everyone in our community to look at the complete plan on the CNY Arts website at cnyarts.org. We see the new regional cultural plan as a living document, one that will continue to develop and remain relevant to the needs of our community as we move forward. We’re excited to see the possibilities move toward reality, and we think you will be, too.
Conversations are taking place with artists, parents and schools. We are working to make it easier for residents and visitors to find the information they need to participate and become better aware of the cultural opportunities throughout the region. We are enhancing our social marketing system at gotocnyarts.org, which provides a regional listing of events. We will go beyond just a listing and work to create a better experience and provide more value to both cultural providers and those looking to participate in arts, cultural and heritage offerings.
Stephen Butler is executive director of CNY Arts, which provides support and assistance to artists and arts and cultural organizations in Onondaga, Madison, Oswego, Cortland, Oneida and Herkimer counties.