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Proposal seeks to strengthen region's arts

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Posted: Friday, June 1, 2012 8:57 pm | Updated: 5:40 pm, Tue Jun 25, 2013.

Arts and culture in the greater Charlottesville region produce more than $100 million per year in economic activity, according to early estimates from a forthcoming study led by the Piedmont Council for the Arts.

The final number, produced in conjunction with a national study by the nonprofit advocacy group Americans for the Arts, is expected to put Central Virginia in the top tier of comparable metropolitan areas.

More detailed information on the study and its methodology will be available when the full results are released next week, but on Monday, the PCA will approach the Charlottesville City Council about a plan to make the local arts and culture sector even stronger.

The arts organization plans to ask the city, and possibly Albemarle County, to help fund the first Charlottesville Area Cultural Plan.

The planning effort, expected to begin in early 2013, is intended to get local leaders thinking strategically about boosting cultural tourism, arts education, local investment in the arts and connectivity between arts at the University of Virginia and the rest of the region.

Maggie Guggenheimer, consultant for research and planning at the PCA, said the study results show that the arts are a “major industry” for the Charlottesville area.

“It’s an asset that can’t be ignored,” Guggenheimer said. “And it’s something that we need to strategically invest in to make sure we’re getting the most out of arts and culture.”

The final product will be a “prioritized set of strategies and next steps for enhancing arts and culture in this region … ,” according to a PCA letter sent to the City Council.

The PCA also hopes to address a paradox of sorts in the local arts community.

“The vibrant arts activity that makes Charlottesville attractive also makes it a more expensive place to live,” the project description reads. “Thus, many of the estimated 2,000-plus individuals in Charlottesville and Albemarle who make some or all of their living through artistic activities face a high cost of living and limited employment opportunities.”

A group of 45 local organizations involved in the arts have expressed support for the project, according to the PCA.

Part of the planning process, Guggenheimer said, is to get all those groups on the same page.

“I think the real value of this is we don’t have a cultural affairs department in Albemarle or Charlottesville,” she said. “We are one entity in a sea of people working to make arts and culture happen here.”

The process will involve a steering committee made up of 20 to 30 people, as well as numerous task forces and working groups to solicit broad input.

The project is estimated to cost $112,000, according to the PCA. The group is asking for $25,000 in funding from the city.

The PCA anticipates getting funds from a number of other arts and tourism organizations, and also plans to seek private donations.

The proposed budget also includes $10,000 from Albemarle, but Guggenheimer said the PCA has yet to make a direct proposal to the county.

“We definitely want the city and the county to both be invested in this in some way,” she said.

According to the PCA, the group has already received letters of support from Charlottesville Mayor Satyendra Huja and Albemarle Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Ann H. Mallek.

“We need a comprehensive plan for cultural activities,” Huja said in an interview. “I think the study will help us do that.”

The mayor, who played a role in jumpstarting the ArtInPlace project and the McGuffey Art Center, has long stressed the importance of the arts.

“People come here for the quality of life,” Huja said. “That is part of quality of life.”

The PCA plans to continue a pre-planning stage for the rest of this year. If all goes according to plan, the project results will be announced in early 2014.