Sarasota Program Touts Cultural Capital

West Florida should look beyond tourism and real estate and consider an economic development gem in planning its economic recovery: arts and culture.

That was the main message from a program at the University of South Florida's Sarasota campus on, "Leveraging Our Cultural Capital in Florida's Economic Recovery."

"It's time we became wise that arts and culture are big business and the money we spend in these areas flows through every part of the economy," says Bonnie Greenball, associate director of the Institute for Public Policy and Leadership at USF Sarasota. Greenball moderated the program with Susan Burns, editor of biz 941, monthly business magazine in Sarasota.

The arts and culture bring more than $130 million a year to Sarasota County alone, Greenball says.

"We need to leverage that to improve the economy," she says. "For an economy built around real estate and tourism, we need to look at the amazing array of performing and visual arts in the community."

A couple of key demographics will help Florida build an even stronger arts and culture economy. The number of people older than 65 will more than double in the next decade. Also, the number of people under 40 continue to consider the arts and culture as a key factor in picking a place to live and work.

"We all knew we have reputation of being a cultural capital in Florida, but we should wake up to the fact that arts are big business, and we should use them as an economic driver," Greenball says.

The panelists at the event were Donald Grimes, economist and senior research specialist for the University of Michigan's Institute for Research on Labor, Employment and the Economy; Virgina Haley, president of the Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau: Dr. Larry Thompson, president of Ringling College of Art and Design; and Johnette Isham, executive director of Realize Bradenton Inc., a new nonprofit organization that leverages arts, culture and heritage for economic development, cultural tourism and civic engagement.

Writer: Dave Szymanski
Source: Bonnie Greenball, Institute for Public Policy and Leadership, USF Sarasota.
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