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Local Opinion: Tucson's arts and culture need your help
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Local Opinion: Tucson's arts and culture need your help

In order for Tucson to thrive, it will need to heed its arts and culture

The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

We invite you to reflect on your favorite Southern Arizona memories and what made them special. Chances are your favorite event, museum, public garden, film, concert, creative experience or family outing took place in conjunction with a nonprofit arts and cultural organization. The arts provide so much more than what we think of as “art.” Cultural organizations inspire us, bring us to imagine new possibilities, and unite us. They give us coping skills and emotional resiliency.

Now imagine Tucson without those memories. No music, no plays, no gardens, no murals, no performances, no creative spaces.

As we watch the shuttering of one after another of Tucson’s iconic restaurants, regional arts nonprofits must heed the parallel warning signs and sound the alarm. A recent study shows the creative economy is one of the sectors most at risk from the COVID-19 crisis. The future of Southern Arizona’s arts community hangs in the balance.

With the support of so many in our community, arts institutions have weathered COVID-19’s challenges, and we gratefully acknowledge the support that has helped keep the arts from fading away. However, the arts cannot be sustained on philanthropy alone. We have made it through the sprint of the past seven months — now is the time to focus on the marathon.

One steadfast partner in championing the arts stands out: the City of Tucson. The City’s early arts and culture investments are working — and arts organizations have proven to be excellent stewards of the funds. Recent CARES grants have allowed cultural organizations to invest in virtual programming, staff retention and innovative services; all as we provide more with fewer resources.

On behalf of the Southern Arizona’s arts and cultural organizations, we applaud city of Tucson leadership for recognizing the economic impact of the arts sector. If additional COVID relief funding is available, the City of Tucson should direct some of it to arts and culture organizations to ensure the lights stay on and further economic losses are minimized.

The investment will pay off. The Tucson regional arts and culture sector has suffered $18 million in COVID-related losses, averaging $400,000 per organization. According to the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings, the creative arts industry has lost 2.7 million jobs nationally. This very real impact is measurable. Tucson is ranked third nationally in creative jobs lost. Conversely, arts, culture and creativity are one of three sectors that drive regional economies. Quite simply, investments in the arts work.

To be sure, many needs have arisen due to the pandemic — many worthy causes need support. Arts organizations are vital for the community long term as we look forward to a post-pandemic Tucson that still feels like Tucson. The arts sector is a critical economic driver. As employers, Arizona’s creative industries contribute $9.7 billion annual into the economy.

Arizona ranks 46th in arts funding nationally. Relief funding coordinated by Arts Foundation of Tucson and Southern Arizona has been lifesaving for many organizations. The city of Tucson has a key decision on Nov. 4 about the future of CARES funding. Please contact the mayor and City Council to thank them for their recent support for arts and culture. Share how important it is to you that our arts and cultural institutions survive. Our local leadership has the ability to turn the tide and direct additional funding to the arts to keep the community we love creative and connected.

Michelle Conklin is the executive director of the Tucson Botanical Gardens and vice president of the Southern Arizona Cultural Leadership Consortium.

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