How Arts Councils can Help Resort Communities
by Craige Hoover
In my time working in Seaside, FL, the seminal and one of the most successful new urban communities in the world, I learned quite a bit about what works and what doesn’t in terms of events and entertainment in a resort community. No two resorts are the same, but many have some common structures that are important to note when looking at them through the eyes of an arts and entertainment planner. First, the developer has sold off, or wants to sell, most or all of the residential units or lots, which means that the developer has little control over the actions of the homeowner’s association. Second, a successful retail component is a key source of ongoing revenue for the developer, assuming they have retained ownership of the commercial buildings.
This configuration presents an interesting quandary for developers and their event planning. Depending on the lease structures and homeowner’s association, Developers get a varying degree of financial support for arts and entertainment. Presumably, most of the support comes from the retail sector, because they are the most obvious beneficiaries of activity within the community. The developer may add to the kitty to entice more retailers or to move unsold real estate, but generally, the retail sector supports events.
What about the homeowners? Aside from rental management contributions, they generally do not contribute to arts and entertainment directly, and yet, the success of such activity raises their property values as well as provides activity for their or their tenant’s enjoyment. Of course, they’re not going to contribute if they have no input into the programming, and chances are they choose different programming than that chosen by the developer or the retail sector. They want programming that increases their quality of life, not simply that which creates the most foot traffic. In fact, foot traffic for a homeowner association is the enemy! Believe me, the Seaside homeowners consistently object to some of the highest grossing events in town because of the effect on traffic, cleanliness, vandalism, and parking. Where is the middle ground?
Here is where an Arts Council, or some kind of umbrella arts presenting organization can come in really handy. The Arts Council operates as a non-profit organization, so it can accept individual donations, corporate support, public and private grants, and pays no taxes. Yet it can still make money so long as the surplus revenue (profit) gets invested back into the business. This model can have tremendous benefits for resort communities (or any tourist-driven market), because you are able to serve a “well-balanced cultural meal,” without having to be beholden to stockholders or ownership.
There are some pitfalls, however. What tends to happen in this situation is the board becomes weighted in one direction or another, and certain stakeholder groups get left out, and the well-balanced meal disappears. For instance, Arts Councils traditionally are most effective when run by concerned, full time residents of a community. However, in resort communities, most homeowners are absent most of the year and do not have the time or energy to devote to the arts in their second home. Consequently, the council becomes comprised of mostly full-time non-resort owners, developer types, or retail operators. Below are two charts that represent what each major stakeholder generally wants out of cultural activities, and another chart that shows examples of how they might manifest themselves.
For an arts council to operate at its best, it needs to promote and present all of the above types of activities, but when a board is slanted one way or another, then a stakeholder group gets left out and withdraws support. Successful arts councils will ensure that each stakeholder group is represented as equally as possible, and therefore presents a wide array of cultural activities that, taken as a whole, will enhance the quality of life for everyone.