Indiana’s cultural resources can help the state grow its economy.

The goal is the attraction of talented individuals and businesses that are seeking to relocate in a newly redeveloped urban environment that previously suffered from under-utilization.

Intense debates and discussions that concentrate on projects and investments in residential and commercial infrastructures are required for northeast Indiana to become a marketable urban space capable of attracting a new skilled and talented workforce.

The cultural assets of our communities must be compiled, disseminated, marketed, analyzed and usefully integrated into redevelopment strategies for under-utilized downtown areas.

There are crucial links between culture and economic development. However, debates and discussions in support of cultural projects must be as intense and passionate as those concerning the need for new residential and commercial infrastructures.

“Culture” evades a clear, straightforward definition: The cultural climate of northeast Indiana can denote beliefs, habits and customs of social groups, as well as activities and products related to the intellectual, moral and artistic life of human beings.

In this simplified perspective, the presence of tangible and intangible economic qualifiers able to produce significant benefits for individuals and their communities are connected to cultural ideals, especially in the areas of efficiency and economic equality.

For example, cultural traditions based on the respect for one’s word typically increase the levels of trust within communities and, as a consequence, reduce the cost of economic exchanges.

On the other hand, moral and ethical opinions may translate into different strategies to make economic development more sustainable through the promotion of greater levels of fairness in relationships between younger and elder groups of people, thereby enhancing economic equality.

Some economists believe that when communities supply cultural goods that are not well aligned with the general preferences of their citizens, the citizens will “vote with their feet” or by moving to communities where their unsatisfied preferences can find satisfaction.

Support for this line of reasoning can be found in history. The cities of Italy during the Renaissance may be the most well-known examples, but other cities such as London and Paris also were transformed because of their dedication to arts and culture. World fairs, biennial arts events and educational symposiums gradually turned these cities into privileged hubs of activity capable of attracting an extraordinary amount of people. Economic prosperity for these cities directly corresponded to the influx of individuals in search of the social, mental and physical benefits that participation in the arts can provide.

Utilizing the benefits that art and culture can provide should not be limited to government institutions. Corporations have a significant role to play. Cultural capital – a term that has been in use since Pierre Bourdieu coined it many years ago – refers to non-financial, social assets that contribute to growth and mobility for an individual, corporation or city. Simply translated, the investment one makes into the arts and culture of an environment will produce growth and upward mobility. Eventually, this can trigger economic and urban development in harmony with Fort Wayne’s plan to develop rational uses of its underutilized resources.

Many people and institutions are showing an increasing and overwhelmingly positive interest in realizing the full potential of northeast Indiana’s creative talent, but we need to keep in mind a few key points.

• Focus on dormant talent. For every one artist in Fort Wayne metropolitan area who is featured and celebrated there are many more who feel disenfranchised, frustrated and unappreciated.

• Seek out the many spiritual and secular traditions of excellence that make Indiana unique.

For example, we now bemoan the fact that many of our old downtown buildings have been destroyed. However, as a city of churches, we are blessed with an unprecedented amount of architecturally unique structures. Many of these religious institutions also continue to produce our most talented artists, singers and musicians.

The reactivation of northeast Indiana’s urban centers is exciting. Focusing on our cultural assets will prove to be economically beneficial for years to come.

Lorenzo Bona, is founder and owner of Limestone Economics LLC, a management consulting company based in Kendallville and focused on business strategy, entrepreneurship and economic development. In Rome, Italy, Bona is also junior fellow of the Tor Vergata Economics Foundation. He first came to Kendallville as an AFS exchange student at East Noble High School. Contact him at bona@limestone-economics.com.

Jennifer Ford, is president and art consultant of Choice Designs, Inc. and owner of Jennifer Ford Art. She received her master’s from New York University in interdisciplinary studies with a focus on Eastern European Culture, and has worked in the art business in Boston, New York City, Miami and Vienna, Austria. Jennifer Ford art, a gallery and art advisory group concentrating on Midwestern Art, works with philanthropic associations to empower women through the arts. Contact her at jennifer@jenniferfordart.com.

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