The Commodity of Culture in Charlotte

I am fresh in from “Art Basel” in South Beach, Florida, and I can report to you that South Beach is nothing like South Charlotte and South Florida is nothing like North Carolina. Their Villas may make me feel that I live in Piker-Ville, but I am here to tell you that there are a couple of things that Charlotte can learn from Miami: one is positive, and the other is foreboding.

The Mint Museum sponsored this trip and took a group of donors for a behind-the-scenes preview of Art Basel. This international art fair offers three shows annually in Basel, Switzerland, Miami Beach, Florida and Hong Kong. The show showcases contemporary artworks by established and newly emerging artists.

What was also remarkable to me was the economic impact that cultural events can have, and how Charlotte really needs to take a hard look at the potential.

Some estimates say Art Basel has an economic impact of $500 million on the Miami Beach area. That’s $500 million created from one week’s worth of activities. More than 300,000 people come into town for the event.

Museums, galleries, private collections and public spaces as far north as Palm Beach County all try to get in on the buzz. More than 1,000 galleries and other exhibitors from around the globe come to town. About 75,000 people attended the main fair in 2013, and 1,800 journalists, both local and from far-flung locales, were credentialed.

Steve Beatus with the Beacon Council has remarked that the economic benefits of having Art Basel are akin to hosting a Super Bowl in Miami each day of the art week.

That’s seven Super Bowls every year in the one metro!

Miami’s venue only started in 2002, but the long-term impacts of the “Art Basel” effect are clear on the Miami economy. The event has gone on for 12 years and spawned entire development districts to support the arts and entertainment that crops up in conjunction. These individual districts are larger than SouthEnd and Noda combined. Art Basel also has helped turn Miami into a super luxury destination. This allows for a more sophisticated lifestyle to flourish. Real estate professionals, for example, have been empowered to elevate price points and create super luxury condos that didn’t exist 13 years ago.

In fact, Art Basel Miami has become so economically impactful, it is now being used as a model of how a cultural event can change the economic landscape of a city. In March 2016, the organizers of Art Basel hoped to recreate the Miami success by launching Art Basel Cities describing it as “a business initiative that will link selected partner cities with the Art Basel network to develop cultural content designed to raise each city’s profile in the global art world.”

North Carolina has tried to leverage its culture. When former N.C. Governor Beverly Perdue appointed me to the State’s Economic Development Board, she also named Linda Carlisle as Cultural Resources Secretary. I remember reading the department’s reports on the impact of cultural events for North Carolina and it was amazing. Our state’s cultural treasures, such as The Bechtler Museum, Seagrove Pottery and The Penland School are indeed gems that bring in tourists and money.

A nice try for the Tar Heel state. But as good as our cultural nuggets are, we need to consider bigger. With the blows that our community’s self-esteem has had recently by HB2 and the protests that unfolded in uptown, a bold cultural event similar to Art Basel would position Charlotte on the world stage and untap an economic development resource. Anyway, in a few years much of Miami is going to be underwater thanks to global warming and the folks in Basel will need to relocate the event to higher ground. Charlotte should go ahead and start the groundwork of laying foundations now.

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