The City of Cody has discussed changing the Cody Art League’s rent, with a possible rise in rent coming close to pricing it out of the old museum building and out of existence.
Obviously, none of Cody’s current city officials have lived in Soho or Chelsea or have engaged in the hot debate about whether or not art is in and of itself an economic driver – able to transform poorer places into richer ones – or whether it’s the influx of artists looking for someplace affordable to live that does.
The jury seems to be out on a lot of that, but at least one element in the debate seems beyond dispute. Art galleries by themselves don’t raise a neighborhood’s economic status. Artists, however, do.
The process seems to be one of artists looking for great and cheap housing or splendid scenery plus an outlet for their art. Other artists follow. Next, young singles seeking stimulation, “discover” this new community. Young marrieds looking for a great social life trail behind, but they spread long economic coattails by opening restaurants, boutiques, and delis. They staff theaters and dance studios, attract architects and designers, demand better schools, and, voila!
Gentrification follows. Realtors move in. Taxes go up.
Whoops! There’s that “T” word that we all love to hate.
I don’t like “gentrification,” either, although I hasten to add that some of my best friends are realtors. But better restaurants? A more diversified economy? Something to lure tourists onto Sheridan to spend their vacation cash?
Washington State, in 2014, conducted a thorough study of the contributions of the “creative” class to the state’s economy. They found that artists and their communities, organizations and activities supported 35,376 direct and indirect jobs, producing $996 million in labor earnings and benefits, while generating $105 million in tax revenue.
Those figures are state-wide and cover a much, much larger population along with much, much larger institutions. Nonetheless, we can draw a few lessons. If nothing else, that the art world provides jobs – both direct and indirect – produces labor earnings and benefits and generates tax revenue.
More, Washington looked at art as a way to attract outside investment and increase tourism. I’d elaborate, but I don’t think any of us need a repeat on how that works. Then, there’s the effect on the young. Who wouldn’t want to raise their children with access to good schools and a vibrant arts community?
Why not Cody? We have multiple examples of small communities sprinkled across the Rocky Mountains who offered less to artists’ communities than Cody but who, nonetheless, have attracted them, nurtured them and prospered from them.
Once a year a little bit of that stardust sprinkles down over the town, heralded by private jets winging in for the annual art sale. Pockets budging with cash, their owners and guests gawk at the scenery and tour Sheridan looking for places to spend – and not finding many.
It’s not for lack of people trying, either. Over the years, we’ve seen artists move into town ... and leave. We’ve had stores opened on Sheridan ... and close. We’ve had events tried ... and abandoned.
Why? Lack of city support for even a struggling institution like the Cody Art League says it all.