Columbia, SC

By Mayor Steve Benjamin

There is something special about Columbia. Since its creation 225 years ago, our city has continued to attract men and women of unparalleled talent and passion to explore new horizons or creativity and push the boundaries of human expression. Our streets are filled with these remarkable individuals leading their disciplines as painters, writers, musicians, dancers and performers of the highest caliber.

Earlier this month, we added another chapter to that proud history with the Tapp’s Art Center’s grand opening and, with this incredible new 22,000 square feet facility, took a major step towards ushering in a new era of innovation and achievement.

But this accomplishment is only part of the equation. Look around our city and you see the State Museum and EdVenture, the Museum of Art and the SC Philharmonic, the Nickelodeon, Gallery 80808, the Trustus and Workshop Theaters, multiple ballets and a new generation of artists streaming from our diverse and vibrant college campuses.

Look around Columbia and you see a wealth of unique talent and, more importantly, opportunity. But in order to take advantage of that opportunity, we have to change the way we look at the arts as a community, as a city and as a state.

We have to realize that cultural and creative industries add $9.2 billion annually to our state’s economy and support more than 78,000 jobs throughout South Carolina. We have to start talking about the ripple effect of institutions like the Columbia Museum of Art whose visitors generated $23 million for Metro Columbia’s hotels, restaurants, and local shop owners in 2008 alone. We have to see the arts as a major economic catalyst driving successful downtown revitalization efforts here in Columbia as well as in Charleston, Greenville, Newberry and Rock Hill.

Only then, when we step back and look at the whole picture, can we start to really make a difference. Only then can we maximize art’s transformative potential in every aspect of our daily lives from how we recruit industries to how we educate our children. Only then can we start connecting the dots to create a critical mass of creativity that reshapes our entire community.

Imagine welcoming potential investors to an urban landscape adorned with public art. Imagine sidewalks filled with local sketch artists, potters and jewelry makers all supporting families through their talent. Imagine the Indie Grits film festival as a marquee event for independent film makers worldwide. Imagine musicians and fashion designers, architects and ad men from across the nation all deriving inspiration from Columbia, South Carolina.

Imagine the impact that would have on a child who doesn’t see the point in school because he’s never known anything but bare asphalt and concrete. Imagine exposing that child to a new world of promise and potential, a world he’ll carry with him back into the classroom and throughout his whole life.

Imagine our potential, because that’s what we’re talking about. Not increasing patronage of oil on canvas or boosting attendance at this year’s Nutcracker performance; but the wide world of possibilities just waiting on us to grab hold and believe.

I believe in our future as the most talented, educated and entrepreneurial city in the Southeast if not America. I believe in our future and in the promise of Columbia.

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