Rhode Island May Become the Next Arts Capital, If It Chooses

by Whitney Kimball on January 21, 2014 Newswire

Lincoln Chafee with Barack Obama (Image courtesy of the AP)

Lincoln Chafee with Barack Obama (Image courtesy of the AP)

Rhode Island could do a lot more to keep its art school graduates around. Cheap rents are enough to keep some RISD and Brown grads in Providence after school, but there’s neither a large museum and non-profit support system, nor the commercial galleries like Zwirner and Gagosian which keep people flocking to the city in hopes of a big break. (RISD itself seems to have had much faith in fine arts careers, given its heavy investment in design in recent years.) As a state with an overall 9.2 percent unemployment rate, Rhode Island has been sending a whole taxable economy down to New York and instead hedging its “Creative Capital” strategy for creative job creation in investments like $75 million to attract Curt Schilling’s video game company to Providence. That was a disaster when the company failed, and represented 60 percent of the state’s investment portfolio.

“We cannot make such panicked decisions again,” Governor Lincoln Chafee remarked last week in his State of the State address. Chafee presented a sensibly themed budget now includes a long-overdue investment in the arts, with a reported $35 million referendum on grants that would be directed towards capital campaigns (renovating art facilities and spaces, or “strategic infrastructure investments”).

According to the Associated Press, the state’s Commerce Corp would award grants to museums, theaters, and historic organizations, on the condition that grant-seekers match funding with their own (a standard requirement of government-funded projects). If the budget passes, we hope that Commerce Corp will invest heavily in the emerging and mid-tier nonprofits and alternative spaces that help to jump-start careers. Chafee also neglected to mention exactly what jobs will be created by upgrades to facilities, aside from construction work. If the goal is tourism or home-grown artists, then the state’s artists could certainly use some operational resources.

Rhode Islanders will have a chance to vote on the fall ballot. RISD students: Go to the polls. Now that it’s prohibitively expensive to live in New York, Rhode Islanders and their artists should seize this opportunity. Watch the full State of the State address here.

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