Nothing less than an economic development

Published 5:22 pm Monday, March 7, 2016

Washington City Council recently made a decision to remove Arts of the Pamlico and its home, the Turnage Theatre, from its previous class as an “outside agency” to the category of “economic development” for the city’s 2016-17 budgeting purposes.

It’s a wise move. A correlation between the arts and jobs, tax revenues, products, consumer spending and cultural tourism has been long established. North Carolina’s creative industries employ 2.6 percent of the state’s workforce and account for $9 billion in North Carolina exports every year. It’s also known that arts travelers, or cultural tourists, spend more money and stay longer when traveling.

AOP, and the Turnage Theatre, however, is in a unique position, as the facility itself is a draw for both art (visual and performance) and non-art events. Some might argue that the economic benefit of the historic theatre is exaggerated, but those people should have been walking West Main Street on Saturday to view for themselves just how accurate those benefits are.

What happened Saturday? The Downeast Regional Spelling Bee was held at 1 p.m. at the Turnage. Starting at 10 a.m., 42 children from Pitt County to Nags Head arrived at the theater to check in for the bee. Sponsored by the Daily News and PotashCorp-Aurora, the winner of this regional bee will compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. in May.

With those 42 children, came parents, friends, extended family and sometimes teachers.  Some came with one parent, others came with an entourage of 10. Once they’d registered their speller, and with a couple of hours to kill before the bee, the first question asked was: “Where can we get something to eat?”

Off they went to the many available lunching options in downtown Washington. That’s money in the till for restaurants and into the pockets of wait staff. Those same people could be seen browsing in stores up and down the street — more than likely, some of them made purchases. These people weren’t visiting Washington for a performance, or even anything arts related. Without the event and the venue, they wouldn’t have been in Washington at all.

It’s good that the city council has recognized that the Turnage is bigger than an arts scene and is nothing less than a tool for economic development.