GUEST COMMENTARY: Enhance appreciation of area's arts, natural resources

2013-07-28T00:00:00Z GUEST COMMENTARY: Enhance appreciation of area's arts, natural resourcesBy Mark Heckler nwitimes.com
July 28, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Northwest Indiana is a diverse region with many extraordinary opportunities for arts and cultural events, recreational sports and entertainment, and nature and the outdoors. We ought to take full advantage of these rich cultural and recreational opportunities and strengthen our identity as a creative community that appreciates arts and celebrates life.

Northwest Indiana provides abundant opportunities for community members to engage with one another and enrich their lives through artistic, cultural and natural amenities. While participation is increasing, we still have work to do as a region to raise both visibility and support for the artistic, cultural and recreational opportunities available to both residents and tourists.

Funding to Northwest Indiana through the Indiana Arts Commission grew 12 percent between 2001 and 2010, resulting in increased arts-related businesses and jobs. From 2009 to 2012, the number of workers employed in for-profit and nonprofit arts organizations had grown from 5,248 to 11,432 — an increase of 118 percent.

In a struggling economy, these indicators are encouraging. They signify growth in an important yet often invisible sector of our economy and offer hope for a promising future.

While residents in Northwest Indiana remain steadfast in their philanthropic endeavors, the arts are not a primary focus. The total charitable giving in Northwest Indiana is at just 3.6 percent of median income, lower than the national average of 4.7 percent.

Increasing philanthropic support will strengthen and grow the arts and culture community of Northwest Indiana. A stronger arts community, in turn will enhance the region’s ability to attract tourists and potential employers and residents.

In addition to supporting the arts, we must raise the profile of our other rich resources, particularly the Lake Michigan shoreline. This is our greatest natural asset and a defining characteristic of the region, yet research in One Region's Quality of Life Indicators report suggests we are not leveraging this asset to its full potential.

Many national parks and beaches along the shoreline lack visibility and the kinds of amenities and businesses that could attract a larger share of both residents and visitors to our region. To make real progress, Northwest Indiana must advance a more robust and comprehensive approach to the Lake Michigan shoreline.

As we look ahead, we must increase Northwest Indiana residents’ engagement with our region’s arts, culture and natural resources.

We might begin with our schools, colleges and universities. For arts, culture and recreation to continue to grow and contribute to our overall quality of life, we must intentionally teach the next generation to value and appreciate these opportunities.

The presence of a deeply enriched arts community as well as highly valued natural resources for recreation and renewal can powerfully enrich the quality of life to all residents and can be a useful tool in attracting visitors, employers and residents.

Today, there are bountiful festivals and events, plays and concerts, and parks and beaches for us to enjoy. Imagine what we could accomplish together through a comprehensive regional strategy for cultural tourism.

Becoming a region where residents “experience vibrancy, appreciate the arts, enjoy life and give back to good causes” will accrue significant economic and social benefits for generations to come.

Mark Heckler is president of Valparaiso University. The opinions are the writer's.

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