State’s SmART Initiative Provides Resources and Grants for Arts-Driven Economic Development.

In a press conference yesterday at American Tabacco in Durham, the North Carolina Arts Council’s SmART Initiative Task Force (previously called the SmaRT Cities/SmART Towns Task Force) announced its SmART Initiative.  This Task Force, chaired by Jim Goodmon, was established in the fall of 2010 and, according to the Initiative’s Report, was made up of “civic and government leaders, legislators, tourism and chamber of commerce directors, private developers and arts leaders”.  The group’s purpose was to “create a SmART Initiative designed to catalyze arts driven economic development in the communities of North Carolina. Based on its work, the Task Force developed recommendations, which it included in its Report.

These recommendations are summarized in the Report, as follows:

1. Create an Arts and Cultural District – Program to provide incentive for local governments and private developers to come together to fast track arts driven economic development. This program will require legislation and substantial funding from both government and the private sector.

2. Provide financial assistance to cities and towns for projects that build on the arts and cultural assets that make the community distinctive and have the potential to stimulate economic growth. Projects must be a partnership between a local government entity and an arts organization, have significant private sector support and participation from private developers, investors, foundations, or businesses, and have widespread community support and involvement.

3. Set up a system of resource teams to help communities inventory their assets and understand the full range of their cultural and natural resources as economic assets.

Task Force Chair, Jim Goodmon, and Secretary of Cultural Resources, Linda Carlisle, present the SmART Initiative at American Tabacco.

4. Create a Web-based resource center as an additional tool for communities undertaking arts-driven economic development.

5. Incentivize private developers to participate in arts-driven development by extending the Historic Preservation and Mill Rehabilitation Tax Credits beyond their expiration dates in 2014 and improving their applicability for small artist run businesses and creative enterprises in rural areas. Other possible adjustments to various tax credits would simplify processes, privilege rural areas which are home to unused mills, or move towards regional preferences that are both multi-county and intra-county in scope. Many privately owned properties are open to public use to varying degrees and often are the core of creative cluster neighborhoods, so public art is an important consideration in their development. Local redevelopment agencies and governments can negotiate with private developers to incorporate public art or other public amenities into their construction projects.

6. Forge partnerships with other governmental agencies to integrate arts driven activity into their existing programs, including the Department of Commerce designating the creative industry as a “Focus Industry Sector” and the Department of Transportation advancing a statewide public art agenda for roadways and cityscape.

ACTIONS SO FAR

So far, the Department has taken two major steps as a result of these recommendations:

  • Creation of the online SmART Initiative Resource Center – As described on the site, “The online resource center includes many existing arts-driven economic development resource links and downloads already available. These materials include overviews of creative placemaking and public art projects and programs; examples of arts and cultural assessment inventories; examples of potential funding sources; details on tax incentives; and models for cultural district programs.”
  • Creation of the SmART Initiative Pilot Grant Program – This program will implement recommendation Number 2, above, and requires partnerships between a government entity and an arts organization, as well as community and business support.  The applications are due on April 2, 2012.
The Resource Center pulls together a good collection of national and state tools and best practices information for arts-driven economic development.  While the Pilot Grant program is a great step, given the significant partnership requirement, we assume that it will mainly apply, this round, to projects that are already on the table looking for funding, given the April 2 deadline.  Still, it is good to see the State taking this step in supporting arts as an economic driver and backed by the statewide leaders on the Task Force.

Thoughts?

Beth

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