Salsa on the SquareI always look forward to June for the inspiration it brings from travel to other cities. This year, Nashville, Chicago, and La Jolla are on my itinerary.

As a girl from Southern California, I’ve spent very little time in Nashville but was one of those people that persist in associating it with country music. Last week, I had my attitude adjusted during the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce’s CEO Leadership Exchange. We learned about Nashville’s deliberate and methodical shift to much more inclusive branding as “Music City,” building on a 130-year history of producing, nurturing, and attracting musicians of all kinds. Now, Music City is growing in part thanks to the creative professionals in many related businesses, and in other industries, that are relocating to or starting up in Nashville. In fact, it’s one of’s fastest growing regions in the U.S.; look at the 68% growth in tech industry jobs over the last 10 years as one indication. They even have two tech accelerators that are specifically related to the music industry. They are living their mantra of “music IN more” – layering the ways that music, as the inclusive cornerstone of their brand, can be leveraged in both economic development and cultural tourism efforts.

Why is that relevant to Cincinnati?

We, too, have a set of assets that distinguish our region from others, even if our history has been less about musical exports and more about building institutions. We can take a page from Nashville’s playbook by better leveraging our nationally significant arts and cultural organizations to drive economic growth and civic identity. We also have burgeoning festival, neighborhood, pop-up art, and maker cultures that have yet to be fully leveraged as thriving, complementary counterparts to our enviable legacy institutions. With all this going for us, what if we simply put a stake in the ground and declared, “Cincy is an Arts City”!?

IMG_7130We don’t need to look farther than our region’s support of the arts to be reminded that Cincinnatians place a special value on the ripple effect of benefits that the arts produce.  While Nashville has designated a cultural affairs department within city government (“MetroArts”) to be the region’s primary arts grantmaker, last year the department distributed $1.9MM to organizations as compared to ArtsWave’s $10MM. Nashville does not have a community campaign like ArtsWave’s to aggregate citizen support. Interestingly, MetroArts Director Jennifer Cole believes that there needs to be upwards of $15MM annually to optimally support Nashville’s regional arts ecology, a figure not dissimilar from ArtsWave’s own estimations.

Next, I’m on to Chicago for the annual convention of Americans for the Arts, which is the national advocacy and umbrella organization for local, regional, and state arts agencies. I’m looking forward to hearing Chicago-based Social Practice artist Theaster Gates, who believes that “good art can rescue bad neighborhoods.” I will be chairing the day-long Private Sector Network Council meeting that precedes the conference start, where we will discuss innovative ways cities like Cincinnati are redefining employee engagement through the arts. There will also be a full morning session with united arts fund staffers, so we’ll have a great opportunity to exchange information with our peers from other organizations running community campaigns.

LumenoCity 2014My last stop of the month will be a return to my roots in SoCal, where we’ll soak in some sun along with enjoying La Jolla’s arts festivals and galleries. (As part of San Diego County, La Jolla supports its arts assets through a share of the hotel tax levied on overnight stays. I’ll be supporting the local arts community through my vacation dollars!)

But as fun as it is to travel to other places, there’s no place like home. I’ll be back just in time for Cincinnati Opera’s 95
th season (yes, it’s the second oldest opera company in the country!), the inaugural SummerMusik Festival presented by the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, the Northern Baroque Splendor exhibition at the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Kentucky Symphony in Devou Park, LumenoCity in Washington Park, and the first season of the beautiful new Warsaw Federal Incline Theater—among many other great things to do right here in Cincinnati, my favorite Arts City. 

CEO currents photo

Artwork in Nashville’s Entrepreneur Center