County should be a full partner in funding the arts

The Frost Science Museum is largely privately-funded, but recently asked for county money to finish the project.
The Frost Science Museum is largely privately-funded, but recently asked for county money to finish the project. MIAMI HERALD

A recent Huffington Post article claimed, “Ten years ago, Chicago, L.A., Philadelphia and Boston would be obvious contenders [for the top cultural community in America]. But today, arguably, the Miami area might be considered número dos,” after New York. Second or not, we’re on a roll. And now is exactly the right time to take stock of how we got so far so fast — and how to keep it going.

We need bold political leadership from Mayor Carlos Gimenez and the County Commission to turn our arts achievements from a trend to a tradition. This takes serious investment.

The arts make our lives better; they open worlds of wonder and discovery for kids and create unforgettable experiences for families and senior citizens. Theater, dance, music, museums and festivals build a great life for our residents. According to Gallup research, the culture of a place is among the top reasons people commit to and love their town or city — and we love Miami!

They also give us a competitive edge by attracting tourism, new business and a versatile and committed workforce. A recent survey by the Beacon Council reported that more than 75 percent of South Florida companies support the arts and 81 percent believe the arts are important to growing their business.

The direct return on county government’s support of the arts is phenomenal. The impact of the arts on our local economy each year is $1.1 billion. For dollar of public support, $31 of private support is generated. Almost 30,000 full-time jobs are created. More than 13.5 million people enjoy our museums, theaters and festivals annually.

Miami’s cultural rise is the product of serious leadership and even more serious investment. Our diverse and unconventionally thrilling arts scene is the talk of the international arts world — and not just during Art Basel on Miami Beach. With the support of the county, we now have breathtaking arts buildings by some of the world’s most preeminent architects. And we have one of the nation’s most effective and professional departments of Cultural Affairs.

But we can’t pretend we’re there yet. Our institutions are still comparatively new, and few are adequately endowed. Yes, we’re turning the corner and have made our way out of the recession and back into economic growth, which is why we think now is the critical moment for our elected officials to reaffirm the place-changing power of our young cultural life. Out of a multibillion county budget, $7 million more for the arts can help keep pace with the goals of making our arts community second to none and addressing the ever-increasing costs of presenting great and affordable arts experiences for families and kids.

An additional $7 million for the county’s arts budget next year would be a strategic investment. It would make the kind of difference necessary to sustain successes.

County support to nonprofit arts groups and artists leverages other private support. Funding Arts Network recently celebrated 20 years of generous contributions to artists and arts organizations. Knight Foundation is engaged in its eighth year of the Knight Arts Challenge and has invested many millions in the arts, certain that the arts are making us a great community. Other private donors have dwarfed these investments with donations to dozens of organizations that wouldn’t exist without their support.

But these private investments only make sense in partnership with Miami-Dade County government’s leadership. They are based on an assumption of leadership and support at the county. This is a legacy moment. The mayor and commissioners should do the right thing: Make the investment.

Armando Codina is executive chairman of Codina Partners and vice chair of the National YoungArts Foundation. Adolfo Henriques is chairman & CEO of Gibraltar Private Bank & Trust and chairman of the Miami-Dade County Cultural Affairs Council. Alberto Ibargüen is president & CEO of the Knight Foundation.