Revitalizing neighborhoods through art could create lasting impact

When thinking about revitalizing a city or a neighborhood, rebuilding housing, streets and buildings probably comes to mind first, but what about investing in the arts?

Popularity in the arts is growing in the La Crosse Community.

Tuesday, dozens of developers, city leaders and members of the community took part in a conversation on how to improve the La Crosse community through the arts, and what they found out goes beyond just creating a beautiful looking city.

For years the arts have helped define downtown La Crosse, and now they may have a new role in revitalizing communities.

“In the past art has often been, ‘well let’s plop something down’ and ‘isn’t that nice,'” said Donald Smith, chair of the city of La Crosse Arts Board. “Well no, now it’s about place-making (and) creating places, neighborhoods, cities (and) communities where people want to be.”

Ann Markusen, professor of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Minnesota said investing in the arts could create a significant economic impact in the city.

Revitalizing neighborhoods through art could create lasting impact

“Any activity in your community that’s getting people out to spend money on the arts organizations, that puts money in the pockets of artists and people who are working there,” said Markusen. “People go to restaurant (for) meals, so there’s a whole set of supporting activities directly to the arts and cultural community that’s really important.”

But it’s not just investing in theatre venues or art shops.

Smith said art on city sidewalks and in parks could have long lasting benefits.

“People make neighborhoods safe,” said Smith. “If people take ownership, if people take ownership of a park that has some expression that defines their neighborhood in terms that they like, then they feel more a part of the place.”

And while investing in the arts takes time and money, city council member Fran Formanek said it would be money well spent.

“I think that it’s very important to realize that the idea of, ‘you’ve got to spend a buck to make a buck,’ but in this case, it’s going to spur more than just the idea of the visual of the visual affect. It’s going to improve the neighborhood.”

After Tuesday’s brainstorming session, the city’s Fine Arts Board is now developing its own strategic plan on how to incorporate arts in the community.

City leaders will also work to incorporate some of ideas into their comprehensive plan on neighborhood revitalization.

City leaders said investing in the arts not only has the potential to grow the local economy and make neighborhoods safer, but it also could have a valuable educational impact on younger generations.