We'd like to encourage the town's Planning Commission — which based on the conversation at its previous meeting last week clearly "got it" and seems on the same page as we are — to move forward with a greater emphasis on the role of the arts and the "creative economy" as they move forward in their work on the next update of the town plan, which is due next year.
A presentation made to the commission noted that Brattleboro devotes six pages of its town plan to the role of the arts in their town's economy and the other, perhaps intangible benefits to their community. Here, the arts gets a much briefer mention — about five lines worth.
That's surprising given this area's remarkable cluster of top-notch, first-rate arts institutions. From theatre, with the Weston Playhouse and the revitalized Dorset theatre Festival, to the Manchester Music Festival and Northshire Performing Arts offering magnificent programs, the Southern Vermont Arts Center and several excellent art galleries, we enjoy a thriving arts scene which draws visitors and their disposable income. They are an integral part of what the region has to offer and form a major part of its "comparative advantage," to borrow a phrase from Economics 101.
All of this of course is so settled that it scarcely needs repeating or underscoring, but just in case, the recently issued Northshire Economic Development Strategy, or NEDS, reiterates the point that one way for northern Bennington County, indeed the county as a whole, to make forward progress on economic well-being as well as those intangible but clearly present "quality of life" indices, is to support the arts, a notch or two beyond what may already be occurring. The point is not that nothing is being or has been done in the past — it's just that there's more room to grow.
One main piece of this is the formation of a formal arts and crafts committee, which would serve as a bridge between the town's political, business and arts communities, which would hopefully serve to leverage their profile and perhaps come up with some new ideas on events and programs -- not that there's a dire shortage of that now. It's amazing how over the years, as some ideas run their course, others emerge to replace them. For a small community, or region, we punch far above our weight in this area, and there would be no harm in keeping that trend going.
Again, to reiterate, things are already in a good place, relatively speaking, but we have the potential here to do more. So why not? Fortunately, the town's planning commission seemed very receptive to that, so we'll look forward to that expanded section in the 2017 town plan.