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Viewpoint: Right Church, Wrong Pew!

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Museums preserve and protect more than a billion objects and help communities better understand and appreciate cultural diversity. Museums tell important stories by collecting, preserving, researching and interpreting objects, living specimens and historical records. Also, museums spend more than $2 billion a year on education activities; the typical museum devotes three-quarters of its education budget to K-12 students. And, they are community anchors in that in determining America’s Best Cities, placed the greatest weight on “leisure amenities [including density of museums], followed by educational metrics and economic metrics … then crime and air quality.

Museums are contemporary and social mechanisms. They inherit both time (history) and space (environment) and the different interpretations and applications of cultural characteristics from different races. Nonetheless, they share universal values in their purposes and carry material (collection and preservation of resources) and spiritual (philosophy, aesthetics, values) missions. Their priority is to increase knowledge for exploration of life’s wisdom.

The above said, for a city dependent to a great degree on tourism, there is another purpose. Museums are popular! There are approximately 850 million visits each year to American museums, more than the attendance for all major league sporting events and theme parks combined (483 million in 2011). By 2006, museums already received an additional 524 million online visits a year just from adults, a number that continues to grow. Americans from all ranges of income and education visit museums, and museum volunteers contribute a million hours of service every week. Sounds like a great idea for increasing tourism.

Beyond all that, Museums Are Economic Engines. They employ more than 400,000 persons and directly contribute $21 billion to the U.S. economy each year and billions more through indirect spending by their visitors. Seventy-eight percent of all U.S. leisure travelers participate in cultural or heritage activities such as visiting museums. These travelers spend 63 percent more on average than other leisure travelers.

Arts and cultural production constitute 4.32 percent of the entire U.S. economy, a $698 billion industry, more than construction ($586.7 billion) or transportation and warehousing ($464 billion). And 4.7 million workers are employed in the production of arts and cultural goods, receiving $334.9 billion in compensation.

Governments that support the arts find that for every $1 invested in museums and other cultural organization, $7 is returned in tax revenues. The non-profit arts and culture industry annually generates over $135 billion in economic activity, supports more than 4.1 million full-time jobs and returns over $22 billion in local, state and federal tax revenues.

Arts and cultural spending has a ripple effect on the overall economy, boosting both commodities and jobs. For example, for every 100 jobs created from new demand for the arts, 62 additional jobs are also created.

All the above considered, the question of location comes fully into focus. The present plan puts the location in an area just to the west end of Lake Edward. The city is deciding to provide the land. The gesture is commendable but to this writer, it looks more in line with getting rid of something not considered much use.

Last evening, after a presentation by Councilwoman Ross-Hammond, I talked with one that I considered a friend and resource, even though we are usually on the opposite side of the political fence, and on this location issue, we agree. This is not a good location for a grand idea. Why take a jewel of an idea, an economic engine, and social relevance, then choose to place it in a back yard corner? What happened to location, location, location?

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Andrew Jackson

Community Advocate

V.B. African-American Leadership Forum

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