Extreme Makeover: Arts Edition

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The notion that the arts make our culture "richer" is commonplace in our vernacular, but an undeniable trend has emerged giving an entirely new meaning to the phrase: across the board, the country’s nonprofit arts and culture industry has grown by twenty-four percent over the past five years, generating over $166 billion in economic activity a year. Art can be big business, and not just in cosmopolitan meccas like New York and Los Angeles. Across the United States, small and midsized cities are harnessing their creative energy to jumpstart their local economies, often with striking results. Cities that have taken heed of this trend have been rewarded in multiple ways—from the rehabilitation and development of uninhabitable areas of the city to the welcoming of tourists, businesses, and well-heeled residents to those very areas. One seminal example is New York’s Soho and Tribecca neighborhoods, which now exceed the famed Upper East Side and Central Park West neighborhoods in rental and real estate prices. It is a reversal of the commonly held notion that artists drain resources, rather than attract them. Perhaps no city has been more successful in exploiting the economic potential of the arts than Paducah, Kentucky, a town of 27,000 which got the Extreme Makeover formula just right when it implemented what has come to be known as an Artist Relocation Program.

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