Arts can boost, diversify small-town economies

A two-day training this fall will show civic leaders, artists, elected officials, entrepreneurs, business owners and others how the arts can play a role in community and economic development.

“Community Development Academy Explores: Arts & Economic Development,” Sept. 26-27 in Excelsior Springs, Mo., will look at the arts as a strategy for boosting and diversifying the economy in small towns and rural communities, says Lee Ann Woolery, community arts specialist for University of Missouri Extension.

“Top challenges for many small communities are a struggling economy and lack of employment growth. It has been shown that arts, culture, and the humanities can help address these issues by diversifying economies, retraining the populace, creating sustainable small businesses, attracting tourism, visitors and investment, and improving the quality of life,” Woolery says.

CDA Explores will take an in-depth look at two case studies: Lexington, Mo., and Ajo, Ariz.

In Lexington, MU Extension and MU faculty and students collaborated with members of the 4,700-person community in west-central Missouri to brand the town as a destination for tourists and artists.

Keynote speaker Tracy Taft, executive director of the International Sonoran Desert Alliance, will talk about how the nonprofit partnership spearheaded an arts-based community and economic development strategy for Ajo, an unincorporated former mining town near the Mexican border. This included converting buildings in the historic downtown for affordable artisan housing, a conference facility, studios, and retail space.

Sessions will look at such topics as using data to identify needs and opportunities within a community; retaining and attracting businesses; diversifying the economy, and drawing tourists through cultural heritage and the arts. A hands-on session will look at identifying and developing assets to build on a community’s existing strengths.

In addition to Taft, speakers include Woolery, MU Extension state community development specialist Sharon Gulick, and MU Extension regional community arts specialists Gk Callahan and Lisa Overholser, who also serves as director of the St. Louis Storytelling Festival.

For more information and to register, go to http://extension.missouri.edu/CommunityArts.

The training is presented by MU Extension through its Community Arts, Community Development, and Extension Community Economic and Entrepreneurial Development (ExCEED) programs.

The training runs concurrently with MU Extension’s Fall 2016 Community Development Academy, an intensive five-day course that equips participants to tackle a wide array of community issues.