In most U.S. cities, there's a neighborhood that has harnessed the power of art for growth.
According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, arts and cultural economic activity accounted for 4.2% of our country’s GDP in 2020, totaling $877 billion. In 2015, that number was $166 billion.
“You know, mural-making is vital when you talk about having an impact on the collective consciousness of a community,” said Earnest Shaw Jr., a famous muralist and artist in Baltimore. “It’s a catalyst for growth, a mechanism by which people renew.”
Baltimore is familiar with renewal. In 2002, it designated the Station North neighborhood as its first art district.
At the time, it was an area associated with poverty, but local artists began infusing the neighborhood with murals and various forms of visual art. Over the years, the art piqued curiosity, which drove investment. Station North Arts District is now home to shops, restaurants, museums, and the Maryland Institute College of Art, the oldest independent university of art and design in the country.
“The power of the arts is really embedded in the ways it can transform communities,” said Jeannie Howe, director of the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance. “It impacts every single level of people’s lives.”
Baltimore is just one example of art enhancing a community. Wynwood in Miami, the Richmond Arts District in Richmond, Virginia, and the River North Art District in Denver are just a few examples of similar neighborhoods that saw increases in investment after artwork was infused.
In Baltimore, there has been a focus to preserve the character of the neighborhoods that have been revitalized. The Station North Arts District has been able to keep artists’ spaces reasonably priced so DIY artists who tend live on more meager means can continue to have an impact and footprint.
“I view art as essential,” said Abby Becker, the Station North Arts District Manager. “It’s really critical for us to preserve artists’ spaces, to sure up small businesses and to go out and support the people doing incredible work in your city.”