Redding Summit Emphasizes Art and Culture’s Power as Economic Drivers

Art and culture not only feed the soul, they can feed community coffers as well.

That was one of the main takeaways from the second annual Redding Cultural District Summit held Thursday at the Sheraton Redding Hotel at the Sundial Bridge. The well-attended event was designed as a pep talk of sorts for the stakeholders and partners in the recently designated Redding Cultural District.

Featured panelists included Karen Haley with the Indianapolis Cultural Trail; Rona Nesbit from the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust; Kelsea McCrary, director of Louisiana’s cultural district program; and Peter Comiskey, head of the Balboa Park Cultural Partnership in San Diego.

Peter Comiskey explains how collaborations are key to uniting art, science and cultural institutions in San Diego’s Balboa Park. Photos by Jon Lewis.

Each speaker also touted the ability of art and culture to help a community recover from a disaster—a timely concept as many in the Sheraton Hotel ballroom audience had endured the Carr Fire and were on edge as the Camp Fire continued its assault on Paradise.

Redding Cultural District stakeholders occupy the Sheraton Hotel ballroom.

“We are used to bouncing back from catastrophic things,” said McCrary. However, when Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, it was a “cultural Chernobyl.” Louisiana’s cultural district program was a response to Katrina and the 89 cultural districts in that state are helping to attract people, businesses and cultural activity, she said.

As Redding recovers from the Carr Fire, community leaders can learn a lot from how others use art and culture to speed the process.

As work begins on the Diestelhorst-to-Downtown project to connect the Redding Cultural District with the Sacramento River Trail network, many in the audience were eager to listen to Haley describe how Indianapolis developed an eight-mile, world-class urban bike and pedestrian path through its downtown.

Public art is interactive and engaging on the 8-mile Indianapolis Cultural Trail.

The $63 million project was completed without any funding from the city, although Indianapolis did agree to surrender a lane of vehicle traffic, Haley said. The return on that investment came in the form of taxes from an 18-story mixed-use building that was built specifically to be linked with the Indianapolis Cultural Trail. Haley estimated the economic impact of the trail at $1 billion.

Keys to the trail’s success are accessibility and lighting. “People start walking and biking when they feel safe,” Haley said.

Art and culture were used to jumpstart Pittsburgh’s economy after the near collapse of the steel industry meant the loss of more than 250,000 jobs, according to Nesbit, executive vice president of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.

A four-story-tall rubber duck was featured at a cultural event in downtown Pittsburgh.

Using seed money from the late industrialist Jack Heinz, the nonprofit Pittsburgh Cultural Trust acquired 14 square blocks of downtown blight and set about revitalizing its cultural district into a vibrant center for culture, art, food and community.

In a timeline similar to the Cascade Theatre and downtown Redding’s rebirth, Nesbit said the trust got the ball rolling in Pittsburgh by developing a former movie palace into the Benedum Center for the Performing Arts.

The 2,800-seat theater will host a monthlong run of the musical “Hamilton” that will generate $12 million in ticket sales and create a $30 million economic impact, Nesbit said. Now at 34 years of age, summit organizer Debra Lucero said the trust is one of the oldest in the country and serves as a good example of how the arts can help restore the north state’s economy now that the timber industry has diminished.

Nesbit noted that prior to establishment of the trust, there were 6,000 people living in downtown Pittsburgh. Today there are 15,000. “More people come to the cultural district each year than go to Pittsburgh Pirates, Pittsburgh Penguins and Steelers games combined,” Nesbit said, referring to the city’s professional baseball, hockey and football franchises.

During a Q&A session following the presentations, Sue Lang asked how Redding could draw more people to its cultural district without the population base that benefits Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, New Orleans and San Diego.

Haley, from Indianapolis, suggested that Redding play up the two things her city doesn’t have: water and mountains. “Indianapolis would kill for those,” Haley said.

Sometimes the best way to feel good about your situation is to see it from an outsider’s point of view.

Jon Lewis

Jon Lewis is a freelance writer living in Redding. He has more than 30 years experience writing for newspapers and magazines. Contact him at jonpaullewis@gmail.com.

1 Comment
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments