Art and economic development are two terms rarely used in the same sentence — so rarely, in fact, that the phrase “creative business” sounds more like a euphemism for shady financing than support for the arts industry. But providing incentives to “creative economy businesses” is exactly the goal of the new Williamsburg Arts District — an area, recently created by the Williamsburg City Council at the intersection of Richmond Road and Lafayatte Street, meant to spur the development of arts-related business. While any initiative to spur growth near campus is beneficial to the College of William and Mary, we think this plan warrants the attention and explicit support of College students and administration alike.
Obviously, the simple prospect of more attractions within walking distance is a positive development for any college town, especially when they engender a more creatively vibrant environment. Williamsburg has pitched this idea mainly from an economic perspective — more businesses will always mean more revenue — but the Arts District also constitutes an investment in the character of the community. It expands the variety of student life, particularly for art students at the College and surrounding schools. And, as much as we are sometimes loath to admit it, what is good for the city is good for the College.
Notions of “community character” aside, the Arts District can benefit the College in several explicit ways. A selection of galleries could give both students and faculty a place to exhibit and sell their work. It could create a pool of local artists potentially willing to collaborate and work with College classes and events, not to mention with the Muscarelle Museum of Art.
As such, the College community should do everything it can to support the Arts District’s development. The goal of the City Council’s plan is to incrementally transition new businesses into the area via a series of tax incentives for “creative business.” The proposed development only works, however, if artists feel welcome in the Williamsburg community. The College should become part of that process. Our arts department and the Muscarelle already have extensive ties to local artists, who would be perfect assets to the District. Even reaching out to distant contacts and arts alumni would help the Arts District get off to a good start. But frankly, even more concerning would be if the District succeeds without the help of the College; we would lose the critical opportunity to become an active member in this community. The College has precious few chances to be ahead of the curve. We can’t afford to let one pass us by.
Finally, beyond motivational support, it would behoove the College to look into investing in its own space within the District. There is a chance that more self-displayed artists, not necessarily galleries, would be attracted to the District initially. In that event, a College-owned property open to periodic use by College students and faculty would prove invaluable. Now it doesn’t take an economic genius to realize our budgetary wiggle-room lies somewhere between comically low and non-existant, which is why we implore the College to seek outside sources. To find financing would require significant effort — a major fundraising drive, reaching deep into arts alumni network — but the effort would be well worth the time and money spent. To all students, faculty and anone with a vest interest in the arts and arts education: The District is a resource that cannot go untitled. We must act up and find a way to make it a reality.