Tahoe’s South Shore should embrace its creative side (opinion) | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Tahoe’s South Shore should embrace its creative side (opinion)

Rae Matthews
Tribune Guest Columnist

Far too often, arts and culture are treated as merely a luxury, afterthought, or at best a byproduct of economic prosperity, something to be dealt with only after “more important issues.” But communities with thriving arts scenes did not stumble upon them by accident. The arts were proactively embraced from the beginning and seen as a pillar of economic planning — and as an avenue to solve those greater problems. This is a strategy that the South Shore should actively embrace.

Arts and culture will help to create a meaningful and attractive community identity that will encourage the influx of both year-round residents and tourists. While our recreation-based tourism economy has its merits, it is important to diversify. Creativity is not subject to the weather or the seasons, and arts-and-culture tourists will come all year.

Just what is an arts-and-culture tourist? According to a report by Americans for the Arts, these are “individuals or groups seeking out distinctive experiences focusing on visual and performing arts, architecture, cuisine and craft.” For tourism-based economies, these people are extremely important. The report continues by citing a 2013 study: “The appeal of the cultural tourist market is they typically spend more and stay longer than other types of U.S. travelers. The U.S. cultural traveler spends 60 percent more, approximately $1,319 per trip, compared with $820 for domestic leisure travelers.” A thriving example of this is Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, which draws over 30,000 people annually. Why would we not seek to add these people to our tourism portfolio here in the South Shore?

The arts also give a voice to the marginalized and increase community and economic vitality. Arts education instills hope and confidence in a young person. It can inspire a passion for a career that they would not have otherwise realized is available to them. If they do not pursue a career in the arts, arts education will still encourage creative thinking and creative thinking leads to entrepreneurship. Thanks to evolving technology and initiatives like Tahoe Mountain Lab, South Shore is witnessing a steep rise in permanent residents making a living through self-employment. Artists are some of the original entrepreneurs, and a thriving creative economy will encourage those growing up here to stay and contribute rather than seek opportunity elsewhere.

Many are actively involved in the arts in the South Shore, including The Valhalla Boathouse Theater, theater and arts education at Lake Tahoe Community College and the high school, Tahoe Art League and Tahoe Arts Project, High Vibe Society Artisan Collective, Bona Fide Books and Tahoe Production House, as well as countless freelance artists, writers, photographers and musicians. And now there is a new group forming — called Tahoe Arts Alliance — with the goal of supporting and promoting all of the arts as a whole in the South Shore. But they can’t do it without the support of the community. It is important that individuals lend their voice on behalf of arts and culture for the benefit of all involved. A rising tide raises all ships.

Rae Matthews is the community engagement manager for Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival. She holds a B.A. in Theater Production and an M.A. in Cultural Studies. She also serves on the board of Valhalla Tahoe, where she directs theater for their annual Art, Music and Theater Festival. She lives in South Lake Tahoe with her husband Troy, and their corgi and calico.

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