Stories from the Midland Area Community Foundation

The case for public art: Why we’ve granted over $2.4 million since 2009

August 21st, 2019

A recent mural located at Circle Auto Parts in Midland, paid for by a Midland Youth Action Council grant

“Why don’t you spend that money on the homeless or needy?”

It’s a question we’re often asked after announcing gifts to public art projects, and it’s a fair one. With limited grant dollars and over a hundred local nonprofits vying for funds, why not focus solely on the most pressing needs in our community? First, it’s important to point out that grants to health and human services average nearly $1 million each year. While far fewer dollars are granted to the arts, it’s still an area of focus for your community foundation for many reasons.

Nationally, the nonprofit arts and culture industry generates over $166 billion in economic activity and provides 5.7 million full-time jobs. Federal, state, and local governments spend less than $4 billion each year to support the arts, and they see revenue of $30 billion (a 7:1 return on investment). Clearly, art matters. Cities that put a priority on the arts see increases in property values, revenues, jobs, and – perhaps most importantly – a sense of community.

Building that sense of community is multi-faceted, challenging, and, quite honestly, difficult to fully measure. What we do know is that public art projects can play an enormous role. Focus group and polling data clearly show that those residing in communities who value and invest in the arts tend to feel more connection and pride with where they live. Art attracts business and commerce, often directly leading to jobs and economic growth.

In the 1990s, the city of Miami began investing in the restoration of art deco hotels in their South Beach district. This renewed interest in the arts eventually lead to the first Art Basel show in 2002. Today, Art Basel is widely recognized as the most prestigious art fair in the world, generating over half a billion dollars in economic activity each year.

Here in Michigan, the Grand Rapids Art Prize competition is one example of a home-grown arts project that exploded in popularity, bringing millions of dollars in economic activity to Kent County. Large-scale shows like Art Basel and Art Prize provide unique, attractive events that bring world-class art to communities, reaching residents and visitors who wouldn’t normally go out of their way to visit an art museum. How do we capture that kind of spirit on a smaller scale?

In 2017, the Midland Area Community Foundation brought local leaders and art advocates together to form the Public Arts Midland committee. Since their inception, several unique projects have launched, including the giant, interactive “ART BUILDS MIDLAND” letters, which are rotated among different locations throughout the community each summer. The outstanding mural underneath the US-10 overpass on Saginaw Rd, public art from a variety of artists downtown, the crane sculpture in Grove Park, and mobiles made out of paper origami cranes found at several local businesses are a few other recent highlights.

As a community foundation, we’re tasked with initiating and supporting projects and programs that increase the quality of life for all residents of Midland County. We take pride in our partnerships with local government and nonprofits to impact pressing needs such as health, education, environment, youth, and more. These issues will continue to be mainstays as we press forward in our mission. Public art is just one tool to positively impact Midland County, and we look forward to future projects. Want to join us? Your gift to the Public Art and Beautification Fund goes a long way.