It is obvious that arts and culture keep our towns and cities hopping and vital, especially when you see restaurants filled on nights that theater, museums and galleries have events.

Our elected leaders understand how important arts, culture and creativity are for building strong communities. Candidates are also learning that over 90 percent of Connecticut’s arts and culture supporters vote. With this year’s gubernatorial election in high gear, as well as many other legislative races, it’s important that we hear from the candidates on these issues, particularly as Connecticut’s funding for arts and culture has continually declined, bucking the national trend and while surrounding states are increasing their investment. This is a missed opportunity to have a real impact on our state’s economic health, our education system, and quality of life.

Studies prove that this sector has an excellent return on investment. There are examples in every region across the state, in urban areas and rural towns.

In the City of Torrington, the arts are being used as a catalyst to revitalize downtown. The nonprofit Five Points Gallery and their Launchpad Artists’ Studios have had a ripple effect since they first emerged on the scene a few years ago.  Since then, three other galleries have opened their doors in the neighborhood and more artist studios are populating several other buildings along Main Street as well. The owner of Sasso’s Coal Fired Pizza on Main Street has said that he can count on a packed restaurant when the arts organizations are hosting events.

In the City of New London, a massive hiring spree by Electric Boat is bringing thousands of new, often young, employees to the region with a healthy amount of disposable income. A recent Electric Boat employee survey conducted by the local cultural coalition showed that abundant arts and cultural activities – music, festivals, foodie events — are critically important in retaining talent and keeping employees happy when they are not in the office.

It’s the local arts and cultural institutions that make those activities happen and they are stepping up their offerings to meet the demand and ensure those new employees don’t boomerang right back out of Connecticut.

In New Haven, artists Titus Kaphar and Jonathan Brand have begun to transform and redevelop a 38,000 square foot industrial complex into a mixed-use hub for artists.  This community development project will inject $5.8 million into the city and is being realized with the help of supportive zoning from the city, private donors and state funding. It is already improving the neighborhood’s health and atmosphere, and is creating jobs and economic activity both through the redevelopment of the complex and in attracting and retaining talent in the state.

Here in Connecticut, arts and cultural businesses and organizations support more than 23,000 full-time equivalent jobs.  The nonprofit arts and culture sector in Connecticut generates almost $800 million in economic activity each year as well. For every $1 invested, $7 is returned to the state and that’s important considering the fiscal situation. A modest investment (currently only .02 percent of the state budget) in this at-the-ready industry can have immediate and tangible positive economic impact.

For the first time in Connecticut, gubernatorial candidates will assemble to share their vision for arts and culture in our state at the Create the Vote forum on July 31 in New HavenCreate the Vote CT, a nonpartisan effort implemented by the CT Arts Alliance and the CT Alliance for Arts Education, has the attention of candidates and we invite the public to attend.

Elections are when we hear candidates’ best ideas for meeting the challenges of our state. Given how important arts and culture are to the economic health of so many communities and the livability of our neighborhoods, we need to hear from candidates on these issues.

When arts and cultural programs benefit from the support of our government leaders, they thrive, and their impact increases dramatically. That’s why it’s so important to talk about these issues with candidates. The Create the Vote CT Gubernatorial Forum is just the first step in the conversation. Connecticut needs to maximize our investment in creative endeavors to get the most from them. To do this, we need leadership from our next governor.

Amy Wynn is President of the Connecticut Arts Alliance (CAA) and Executive Director of the Northwest Connecticut Arts Council. Wendy Bury is Co-chair of the Create the Vote CT committee of CAA, and Executive Director of Southeastern Connecticut Cultural Coalition.

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