Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A State of the Arts Event

By Alex Pearlstein, Director of Projects.

As I’ve mentioned often, it’s tough for a community to get the word out about its competitive assets and advantages in the cacophonous world of modern media and multi-platform marketing. Only a few places – most notably, Las Vegas – have really entered the national mindset via a community-focused marketing campaign. This includes major population centers and high-profile regions with built-in name recognition. What can a small to mid-sized community possibly do to get its brand out there and capture the attention of companies and talent? One answer is to think outside the traditional boundaries of what constitutes “marketing” and develop something awesome that may or may not ever result in a spike in external perception. At the end of the day, you might just have another cool thing for locals (or folks in adjacent communities) to do, and that ain’t nothing.

What I’m thinking of specifically in terms of this topic is an event called ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  This is the fourth year of the competition, which involves the placement of art pieces in various venues in Downtown Grand Rapids (the details are all worked out between the artists and venues themselves) for viewing by the public. At the end of the competition, the public votes on their favorite art installation and the winning artist gets a couple hundred thousand dollars in prize money. Over 1,500 artists from 39 states and 46 countries will be showing their work in more than 160 venues for this year’s ArtPrize. Even better, over 300,000 visitors will likely head to Downtown Grand Rapids to view the art during the two-week-plus competition.

Analysts have estimated the economic impact on Grand Rapids’ economy from ArtPrize at around $15 million. What’s almost more important – and something you can’t put a price tag on – is the national and international attention the contest has drawn to Grand Rapids. Akron, Brooklyn, and Los Angeles are just three of the communities that have launched their own versions of ArtPrize.

A caveat here… ArtPrize was founded and funded by a scion of a local billionaire; most communities cannot count on such largess to advance their attempts to do something awesome and become known for it. So why not start small and build from there? Or so something online that’s less cost-prohibitive. Or leverage social media to make an impact (another Grand Rapids effort I’ve blogged about before, the Grand Rapids LipDub, fits into this category).

Bottom line – you are not going to get people’s attention about your community in the traditional ways anymore. Sure, site selectors will probably find you if your competitive dynamics are right and your website is effective. But grabbing the eyeballs and earlobes of John and Jane Skilledperson or an entrepreneur looking for the right place to launch his or her cool new tech startup will take some moxie, creativity, persistence, and, yes, funding to accomplish. The ultimate “prize” will be sustained the success of your economy, residents, and businesses.