Art a big part of economic picture

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Okotoks: Economist Todd Hirsch shares thoughts on the importance of culture

0Arts and culture is what gets the creative juices flowing in communities, an Alberta economist told almost 50 people in Okotoks last week.

Todd Hirsch, chief economist for ATB Financial, offered his two cents about the value of arts and culture in communities during a presentation June 14 at the Rotary Performing Arts Centre.

Hirsch told those in attendance on Thursday that he’s done research around creativity in communities and has determined three major contributions arts and culture bring to communities: jobs, vibrancy and creativity.

He first discussed jobs.

“People who make a living in arts and culture spend money in their communities,” he said. “There is a ripple effect in our economy. Culture, arts, recreation and sport are often under appreciated and under represented.”

The second contributing factor, vibrancy, is what makes people want to stay in their communities, Hirsch said.

“What is it about a town that would break your heart if it had to leave?” he asked those in attendance. “It’s not ample free downtown parking. It’s arts and culture. They really bring colour and a dynamic flair to communities.”

Hirsch discussed the changes of art and culture the past three decades, saying Alberta tourism and culture is not the way it was in the 1980s.

“If you lost your job, nothing held you in the community,” he said of the ’80s. “Now, a vibrant art and culture scene is what keeps people in towns. Jobs come and jobs go. This is what adds to the fabric of the town or city.”

Thirdly, arts and culture brings more creative thinkers to communities,
Hirsch said.

In his own research, Hirsch said he’s learned that only one in 10 adults self-identify as creative thinkers, yet everybody has the ability to bring creative thinking to their communities.

There are many ways people can do that, from gaining different influences by living abroad to
delving into different cultural experiences, he said.

“The opportunity to live in a different culture gets your creative thinking going,” he said. “If you expose people to different things they are going to seek them out on their own. Experiencing different cultures is a chance to become creative thinkers and offers more arts and cultural opportunities.”

Despite the recent economic downturn, Hirsch said arts and culture is thriving.

“Our economy is not snapping back to where it was in 2014 – that world is probably gone,” he said. “Rather, our economy is evolving. It’s starting to morph in different ways. It’s more diversified. It’s a golden age for arts and culture.”

Hirsch said it’s important now to get others on board to understand the importance of arts and culture in their communities by making it more approachable to those who aren’t so quick to buy into the concept.

He suggested one way is to create tours where people can visit various sculptures, murals and public art in their communities with an app that informs them about the history and details about each piece they’re looking at.

“There’s public art all over the place and it’s plopped here and there and 60 per cent of people are saying there is my tax dollars,” he said. “Let’s make it interactive and engaging. It’s engaging the rest of the public to say, ‘We enjoy this.’”

Julie Boake, graphic design, marketing and social media professional, echoed Hirsch’s comments and said everything around us is influenced by art from our clothing to web pages.

“There is art and design and innovation everywhere,” she said. “It’s understanding that this is in every aspect of our lives and everything around us has been made by someone creative. Everything in our world is designed.”

Boake and Cheryl Taylor, Okotoks Arts Council president, invited Hirsch to Okotoks after hearing him speak in Calgary about the impact arts and culture has on communities. Creative Okotoks, a new movement to further propel arts and culture in Okotoks, is the driving force behind bringing Hirsch to town.

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