Arts and Cultural Alliance discusses the need to preserve and promote the arts in the state
By Joe Baker | The Newport Daily News
Posted: Tuesday, May 13, 2014
NEWPORT — Everyone knows New York with its Broadway and California with its Hollywood lead the nation in the sheer size of their arts communities. But few know that Rhode Island has the third-highest percentage of arts and culture-related jobs in the nation.
That piece of cultural trivia emerged Monday night during the 22nd annual meeting of the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Newport County, held at the historic Griswold House, home to the Newport Art Museum. Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, D-Newport, used the tidbit as evidence that the arts community is an integral part of the state’s economy and needs not only to be preserved but promoted.
“This truly sets Rhode Island apart as a state of the arts,” Weed said. “We’re playing to our strength when we play to the arts.”
The state has embarked on its own arts-related economic promotion efforts. For years, state officials carved out arts districts around the state that would be eligible for tax incentives, but last year the General Assembly passed legislation sponsored by Weed to make the entire state an arts district. One of the biggest aspects of that designation is a sales tax exemption for all locally generated artworks.
Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee, who has been an ardent advocate for the arts, told the gathering that the state had 1,163 arts and cultural organizations associated with 5,200 jobs and $324 million in annual economic activity. That segment of the state’s economy remained strong even through the most recent recession, Chafee said.
In his proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, the governor proposed moving the Rhode Island Council on the Arts and the Rhode Island Film Office into the Rhode Island Commerce Corp., which used to be the Economic Development Corp., to enhance the arts sector. He also proposed adding one full-time equivalent job (FTE) that would coordinate promotion efforts with the state’s cultural organizations.
“The arts are an important part of our economy and I think it’s worth one FTE to do that,” Chafee said.
One doesn’t need to be an artist to appreciate the importance of culture, said Arts and Cultural Alliance President Terry Dickinson.
“While wonderful in its own right, knowledge of art and culture is not a prerequisite for appreciating art and things cultural,” Dickinson said. “Art and culture serve as a source of joy and delight, as a fount for inspiration and sometimes as a safe, comforting place from which to find solace.”
The alliance awarded its annual Dominique Award to the soon-to-be-retiring Newport public schools arts supervisor Alan Bernstein. Named for longtime Island Moving Co. Director Dominique Alfandre, the award is given to someone who has had a positive impact on the local arts community. Beyond his teaching, Bernstein, who is also a composer, has been instrumental in promoting local artists, bringing them into the schools, Alfandre said.
“He’s always ready to do what it takes to make musicians grow,” she said.
City Council Vice Chairwoman Naomi Neville reminded those present of the opening ceremony for Newport’s yearlong 375th anniversary celebration. The kickoff will be held on the steps of Newport’s historic Colony House on Saturday, May 24, at 6 p.m., with a ceremonial signing of the compact between the Narragansett Indian tribe and the original English settlers in 1639.
In her speech, Weed recalled a small gathering of five people at the Newport Public Library two years ago that ended up generating some large ideas. That meeting, which included Council on the Arts director Randall Rosenbaum, Alfandre and Alison Vareika, was the start of the effort that eventually led to the campaign for Rhode Island as a State of the Arts.
“We wanted to do what we could to harness the power of the arts,” Rosenbaum said.