Cover of 2014 Piedmont Council for the Arts cultural plan

I was pleased to see in your December 21 article that the City is considering an arts administrator position (“Charlottesville to study arts administrator, architect positions”). It’s good to know that this discussion, which has been off-track for too long, is finally back online. Our localities need to be serious about the arts, not because they make us better (although they do) or because they are nice (often they are not) but because it’s a crucial part of a smart strategy for economic and human development.

According to Piedmont Council for the Arts’ 2011 Arts and Economic Prosperity Survey, arts and culture generated $114.4 million in annual economic activity in the Charlottesville area that year. This supported 1,921 full-time equivalent jobs and generated $9.2 million in local and state government revenues, plus $64.9 in household income. Their study focused mainly on the nonprofit sector but make no mistake: arts and culture are big business in Charlottesville and Albemarle. The creative sector is growing and pulling related industries along with it.

Indeed, a quick Location Quotient analysis (using 2015 Bureau of Labor Statistics Census data that show which local industries are exporters) indicates that our Arts and Culture industry employs about 85 percent more people than the national average rate, and it’s growing significantly faster than the nation as a whole. Smart localities invest in growing industries that outcompete their peers elsewhere and that’s what’s happening with the arts here.

Besides creating jobs, the arts attract people and businesses who want to be part of the creative churn that attracts thinkers and has done so for a long time. That energy creates work in other, related industries like hospitality and Information Technology, both of which are important contributors. There is a clear jobs-and-business case for local (and regional) support for the arts but really strategic economic development strategies go further and grow local human capacity to prepare workers and entrepreneurs for the future. In that regard, the arts offer some very intriguing possibilities.

The arts widen our vision and open our minds to new possibilities, which are the seeds of enterprises and ideas. They provide the ability to imagine alternative futures and to demand change that begins inside and spreads to those around us. Self-improvement and advancement are not possible without the arts and that work requires time, space, encouragement and opportunities to be heard and receive constructive feedback. This is not about government art but supportive infrastructure for our people and our leading industries.

It will be interesting to see where the discussions lead. This much is certain: if Charlottesville really wants to be a “World Class City” and if Albemarle truly desires thriving “vibrant communities” that attract opportunities and enable innovators of all kinds, they will need to be serious, demonstrative (and hopefully collaborative) in fostering the creative spark that gives our region an advantage and improves all of our lives.


Charlottesville’s Arts, Entertainment and Recreation category Location Quotient for 2015 is 1.84; Albemarle’s is 1.86 (Bureau of Labor Statistics). Ratings higher than “1” indicate an export industry. Only Information Technology is stronger, at 2.17.

Charlottesville’s shift-share, which measures local competitive advantage relative to peers nationwide (for 2010-2015) is 114, by far the most competitive industry. A rating of zero would indicate parity with national trends. Interestingly, Albemarle’s arts sector is important (as the LQ indicates) but decreasingly competitive, with a negative shift share. I have the data on an excel sheet which I can share.

The LQ data can be pulled directly from Formulas for Shift Share derived from Leigh, Nancy Green and Edward J Blakely. 2013. Planning Local Economic Development (5th ed.) Washington, DC: Sage, 164-179.

Arts and Economic Prosperity data from


Peter Krebs is a Master’s Degree candidate (Urban and Environmental Planning) at the University of Virginia School of Architecture.