Volume XIII | Issue 2 | Fall 2012
Bronze foundries in Joseph produce artistic statues sold around the world and in local galleries. Seven bronze art pieces are on permanent display on Main Street. Photo: Traveloregon.com

Heritage, arts drive local economies

From bucking broncos to bronze statues — cultural attractions are hot

Thousands of visitors will flock to the Southern Oregon town of Grants Pass this October, drawn by a free outdoor festival that features dozens of local and national chalk artists. Besides the chalk creations drawn on downtown streets, Art Along the Rogue includes live music, a doggie parade and prizes. It’s just one of the many events the town stages each year to draw visitors. Many of them incorporate art, including a summer display of painted bears and a winter display of Christmas murals. 

Cultural tourism is a fast-growing segment of the travel industry

Art and culture have a valuable place in vibrant communities, one that supports jobs, generates big revenues and provides the quality of life that positions communities to succeed. Cultural tourism, which includes arts and heritage attractions, is one of the fastest growing segments of the travel industry. Public art demonstrates civic pride and adds to a town’s desirability. In some instances, arts and culture even provide the town’s identity. Ashland, for example, is known worldwide as the home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. 

The latest Arts & Economic Prosperity study, released in June, reveals that the nonprofit arts industry produced $135.2 billion in economic activity during 2010 in the United States. This spending — $61.1 billion by nonprofit arts and culture organizations plus an additional $74.1 billion by their audiences — supported 4.1 million full-time equivalent jobs and generated $22.3 billion in federal, state and local tax revenues. 

“This study shines a much-needed light on the vital role the arts play in stimulating and sustaining economic development,” says Robert L. Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts, the organization that commissioned the study.

Here are several Oregon communities that have made the connection between cultural tourism and economic benefits:

Joseph artists 

The tiny town of Joseph, tucked in the foothills of the remote Wallowa Mountains, has an outsized reputation as an art mecca. Once a typical Eastern Oregon timber town, in the last 30 years, Joseph has reinvented itself as home to a bustling arts community that draws visitors year round. Its bronze foundries produce artistic statues sold around the world; galleries abound; and working artists are glad to call it home. Seven bronze art pieces are on permanent display on Main Street.

Pendleton Roundup

The Pendleton Round-up is a 102-year-old tradition that celebrates the town’s Wild West heritage. More than 50,000 visitors come to the Round-up each year, triple the town’s population of 16,700. It takes a community to make it successful. Every year, volunteers — some of them 30-year veterans — devote about 20,000 hours of hard work to put it on. In 1931, Round-up President Henry Collins refused an invitation to take the event to Washington, D.C., famously saying: “It would be necessary to take the whole city of Pendleton, people and all… For the Round-up is not just a Wild West show, it is the product of … community spirit.” 

Talent mural 

Downtown Talent now has a graphic reminder of what a community is all about — its residents. The Talent-Phoenix cohort of the Ford Institute Leadership Program chose as its class project an 11x31-foot mural depicting a town scene. The mural, which was painted by class members, portrays a contemporary town scene, with families hiking and riding bikes, people walking dogs, a skateboarder, a horse and rider, cats, a goat and chickens. “The main theme is that it’s people who create a community,” says artist Karen Rycheck, a member of the leadership class.

Historic preservation in Astoria

The north coast town of Astoria is perched at the mouth of the Columbia River, built on the site of John Jacob Astor’s fur trading post –– the first permanent U.S. settlement on the Pacific Coast. In recent years, community leaders have chosen to develop and promote Astoria’s rich heritage. Clatsop Community College complements that strategy by offering training in historic preservation and construction. Students can earn a one-year certificate or two-year associate’s degree, and will graduate qualified to work as subcontractors and general contractors specializing in renovation and historic preservation. Students have worked on the 1924 Astoria Train Depot, the Griffin Building downtown, the Fort Astoria replica of Fort Clatsop and several historic residences. 

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