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Officials expect arts designation to bear fruit for Columbus

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"Eos" by Dessa Kirk is a winged sculpture installed in the 5th Street median facing Mill Race Park.

"Eos" by Dessa Kirk is a winged sculpture installed in the 5th Street median facing Mill Race Park.

Designation of the Columbus Arts District as an Indiana Cultural District will enhance the city’s marketability as a destination and bolster its growing tourism economy, said both the city’s mayor and its top tourism official.

“The official state designation of the Columbus Arts District is a great stamp of qualification we can use when marketing our city to potential visitors, employers and employees,” Mayor Kristen Brown said. “It makes our strong marketability even stronger.”

The addition of Columbus and Nashville to the State Cultural Districts Designation Program, which already included Bloomington, creates a south-central Indiana corridor of cultural districts, said Lynn Lucas, executive director of the Columbus Visitors Center.

Columbus’ designation, bestowed Friday by the Indiana Arts Commission, augments current tourism efforts and should help create new attractions, Lucas added.

“This really gives a shot in the arm to the Arts Road 46 tourism trail,” she said.

About four months ago, Columbus, Brown County and Bloomington joined forces to get a state tourism grant to promote the arts in the communities, which are joined by State Road 46, Lucas said. Columbus has used some of that money to develop a website and Facebook page to promote the trail, she added.

Columbus also is a stop on the Indiana Glass Trail because of its two public Dale Chihuly works and the Victorian glass at Zaharakos. One Chihuly work here is a chandelier at the Columbus Visitors Center. The other is his “Sun Garden Panels in Suspended Circle” at the Columbus Learning Center.

Lucas envisions the Columbus Arts District adding arts and cultural programs that will help make the city even more of a destination. And, she said, the cultural district designation should help events grow through additional publicity.

She mentioned Bob Anderson’s art show held downtown during the summer and the desire for more art galleries.

“People expect Columbus to house a large art fair,” Lucas said. “Public art is popular, but the expectation is for more galleries and artist studios.”

Creation of an arts and/or artisan center within the arts district is an idea that is being discussed, said Jayne Farber, a consultant hired by the city to help the arts district ideas come to fruition.

An arts center could house studios or gallery space. An artisan center is for artists who create something that is functional, like a weaver who makes a coat. Combining the two concepts or having separate spaces for them are possibilities, Farber said.

Fixing the Crump Theater so it can be used more broadly for events remains an idea, too.

While Columbus’ architecture attracts tourists from foreign countries, Farber believes that a growing arts district will be an attraction for those tourists, too.

Tourism has been on the rise in Columbus, Lucas said, and she thinks the cultural-district designation could help bring more tourists and money into the city.

The innkeeper’s tax, a 5 percent charge on hotel rooms in Columbus, generated $907,120 in 2007. Last year, it produced a record $1,243,966, Lucas said.

Columbus also could benefit from tax incentives the state is considering as part of the long-term vision for the Cultural District program, Brown said.

“These incentives could include deferral of income taxes for artists who sell their goods in the district and the deferral of sales taxes on goods sold in the district,” the mayor said.

The state also is considering reinvesting taxes back into Cultural Districts from the sale of goods and services related to the arts and culture, Brown said.

The Columbus Arts District will be showcased in state marketing materials, and the city can apply for signage on Interstate 65 that highlights that Columbus is a Indiana Cultural District, the mayor said.

A cultural district is a well-recognized, labeled, mixed-use area of a community, in which high concentrations of cultural assets serve as the anchor, according to the Indiana Arts Commission. These districts promote the exploration of and participation in the arts and humanities through cultural experiences, and they support community life and economic vitality.

The Columbus Arts District’s plans include investing in the arts by engaging local and international artists to create a variety of experiences for residents and visitors of all ages, according to a news release issued Friday by the city.

Brown pushed to expand arts and cultural offerings in Columbus after taking office in January, and she made earning the cultural district designation a priority.

The city’s push for the cultural designation shows a seriousness toward the arts, said Karen Shrode, executive director of the Columbus Area Arts Council.

So does the millions of dollars pumped into revitalizing the downtown, like revamping Fourth Street for community events, she added.

She said the benefit will be attracting new people to the community, having “more creative thinkers and minds walking downtown.”

Working with the Indiana University Center for Art and Design to expand programs will attract more students, Shrode said.

More arts and cultural events creates a greater quality of life that helps to attract businesses and employees to town, she added.

“I think the tax base could benefit from this,” Shrode said.

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