State leaders urged to do more to grow arts

By John Larrabee
Contributing Writer
If you want to keep Shakespeare alive in Rhode Island, give a tax break to Hamlet – or more precisely, the actor who portrays him. More

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State leaders urged to do more to grow arts

ON STAGE: Ricardo Pitts-Wiley, above right, an actor and development director for Mixed Magic Theatre in Pawtucket, says performing artists should be considered for tax breaks. Also pictured, from left, interns Alex Salazar and Trent Robinson Lee.
By John Larrabee
Contributing Writer
Posted 2/18/13

If you want to keep Shakespeare alive in Rhode Island, give a tax break to Hamlet – or more precisely, the actor who portrays him.

That was one suggestion offered at a Feb. 11 charrette – or brainstorming workshop – where state leaders, businesspeople, college administrators, artists and actors discussed ways to ensure that arts and cultural activities continue thriving in Rhode Island.

The group, about 200 strong, came together at Fidelity Investments’ Smithfield facility because they’ve all come to recognize that arts activities – from WaterFire nights in Providence to musicals at Woonsocket’s Stadium Theatre and exhibits at Pawtucket’s Hope Artiste Village – have become a vital economic engine in the Ocean State.

“When all the arts venues in downtown Providence are active, so are the restaurants, bars and parking lots,” said Randall Rosenbaum, executive director of the R.I. State Council on the Arts.

His organization presented the gathering with numbers that illustrated the role of the arts in the state’s economy: There are 8,000 to 10,000 artists working in Rhode Island. The state’s nonprofit arts and cultural organizations provide 5,165 jobs. And art businesses, nonprofits, museums, theaters and movie productions employ a total of 13,445 people in the state, according to a recent study by Americans for the Arts.

Those direct employment statistics are just one part of the story. The group also heard that the arts help other businesses to prosper. When Providence hotels are packed with conventioneers, that’s partly because the organizers know there are things to do in the city. When companies locate in the state, it’s partly because they know employees want to live someplace with cultural activities.

Leaders in government and business should be taking steps to ensure all that continues, Rosenbaum told the group. “RISCA is not an economic-development agency,” he said. “Economic development is a happy byproduct of what we do. … We all have to be at the table together.”

Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee, House Speaker Gordon Fox and Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed all spoke to the group. Chafee described the arts as “an asset to the state,” adding that since the time he served as mayor of Warwick, he has recognized the economic benefits of arts and culture.

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