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Volume 26, Number 4 — April 2019

Kingsport's Renaissance: Bonnie Macdonald

'The Value of the Arts is Being Celebrated'



Having lived in Kingsport for 25 years and having been active in the arts for most of that, I can tell you that the value of the arts in Kingsport has gone through a true revival in recent years.

Even more than an external goal or "aim," I believe that the value of the arts is being celebrated — in very visible ways — by the Kingsport community and its leadership. That value is manifested through the various organizations presenting and producing arts as well as through a desire to continue to build on the current success and the support to do the work.

We have a great history to work from:

• Symphony of the Mountains
— professional orchestra to the region — has called Kingsport home for 62 years. It now includes Voices of the Mountains and a Youth Orchestra.

• Our community-based Kingsport Theatre Guild is a wise and venerable 62 years old but attracts young actors and growing audiences.

• The Kingsport Art Guild is currently celebrating its 60th Anniversary and offers abundant classes and outreach opportunities for the community.

• The Arts Council of Greater Kingsport has been a part of the fabric of arts activities for more than 40 years.

Kingsport Ballet recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. The company boasts four full-length ballets in its performance repertoire and features an authentic Vaganova-based curriculum.

All of these organizations employ dedicated and talented professionals who work tirelessly to "promote the cause.'

Over the past five years, Kingsport has added new art amenities that have quickly found their audiences and been well received:

• The Public Art effort in Kingsport started with a temporary exhibit which quickly took root, and now Kingsport is poised to award $155,000 in commissions for art over the next year.

• The outdoor concert series on Broad Street began with Tom Keller, hard work, dedication and a love of bluegrass music. The Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BMA) understood his dream and, when the opportunity to expand came along, the BMA provided significant funding to provide Thursday and Friday night free concerts all summer long.

Q&A with Macdonald

Is Kingsport focusing on cultural resources as real capital and/or creative capital?

Macdonald says, "An active arts community will reap both. The Arts and Economic Prosperity III Calculator from the Americans for the Arts shows that $100,000 in spending by arts organizations yields (for a population of 50,000) 2.8 full-time equivalent jobs, $2,952 in local government revenue, and $3,732 in state government revenue. Creativity in everyday life means greater skills in problem-solving and innovation — attributes valued by business and industry."

How is the city supporting the arts financially?

As reported in A! Magazine for the Arts (September 2008), the City of Kingsport's total activity in the arts was approximately $1.8 million. Even in a rough economic climate, this figure has not been diminished. [Search "Model City" in A! Magazine's archives.]

What is the economic impact of the arts in Kingsport?

Art for art's sake cannot be readily measured. We know it is valuable to our quality of life. But we can measure the economic impact. Studies show "every dollar invested in the arts produces $9.77 return on investment" (The Philanthropic Collaborative 2008 report, "The Social and Economic Value of Private and Community Foundations").

In Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia, we are close enough to have regional interaction. Audiences travel throughout the area for the wonderful festivals in each community and for the unique shopping and dining experiences each affords. Now, everyone in Kingsport is proud to say to our neighbors, "Come on over and try out our new restaurants, listen to some great music and visit wonderful art galleries." This new "creative economy" is the result of public support leveraged with entrepreneurial efforts — and we like it!

Personally, I am inspired by the efforts of other communities who have made arts access readily available to everyone in their communities. You can find wonderful examples in every population classification. There is no real secret and each community will necessarily be unique. One common trait is the engagement of the citizens in the efforts necessary to create that vibrant arts culture. That's why everyone enjoys it.

In His Own Words: John Vachon