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By Dayna Del Val, Special to The Forum, Published September 29 2013

Cultivate our assets in arts to improve community

FARGO – The old expression, “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?” is as true for artists as it is for its original reference.

People often ask artists or arts organizations to donate work because the “exposure” will no doubt lead to more work. That assumes that the next person will want to pay for what the first person got for free. That’s not really how it works.

Take the Fargo Theatre, for example. That iconic marquee, surely the single most photographed image in Fargo, received unprecedented and free publicity all during the three-hour broadcast of the recent episode of ESPN’s “College GameDay.”

But does free publicity take care of the cost to maintain a building that is nearing the 100-year mark? You know it doesn’t, as was made clear last week in a front-page story in The Forum.

Millions of Americans tuned in to “GameDay” and were pleasantly surprised by how charming Fargo looked. They watched Lee Corso don the head of “Thundar,” and lead a stunningly calm live bison calf out of the main doors of the Fargo Theatre. Then they turned off their televisions and went on with their lives.

ESPN graciously tweeted about how great Fargo was, packed up and went back to their studio.

The 4,500 people in the live audience that day may have spent a little more time downtown, shopping, eating, snapping photos – hopefully spending some of the conservative estimate of $4 million generated by this single-day event.

But that’s not enough.

This community has an obligation to step up and support all of our arts organizations in a much more meaningful and financially significant way. It’s nearly impossible to find an annual report, promotional piece, recruiting document or video that doesn’t use an image of the Fargo Theatre marquee, Plains Art Museum’s façade, Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County’s ship-shaped roofline, an active shot of the F-M Symphony and many more.

Our museums, theaters, galleries and independent artists are used over and over again to draw tourists, workers, students, retirees and more to this community. These places are the impetus to generate incredible revenue, but they are not seeing their piece of that revenue pie.

The annual Bison football budget is approximately $18 million. I’m not questioning that; I absolutely believe that NDSU’s home games bring people who generate that and more in spending at gas stations, hotels, restaurants, shopping centers, merchandise, bars and the like.

I also am a firm believer, however, that a good community occurs when there are great arts, culture, commerce, infrastructure, educational systems and athletics. We need a strong mix of everything to make the community appealing and successful, and we have to be willing to invest in it all.

If ESPN could so easily recognize that the best location was downtown Fargo because it has charm, vibrancy, culture and more, surely we can recognize that, too.

But it’s about more than recognition of what we have; it’s about strategic and meaningful financial support. Operas, orchestra concerts, premieres and openings don’t just happen. They require planning, financing, marketing and executing, and our arts organizations do that exceptionally well day after day, year after year.

You don’t win a national championship, let alone two on your way to three, without an infusion of cash to your budget. The arts are no different.

Enjoy the game, but buy the “arts cow” as well; you’ll be amazed how much better the milk tastes!

Join the businesses and individuals who already support our local arts organizations by becoming season ticket holders or making annual tax-deductible donations because tickets prices only cover a fraction of the cost. By spreading the word that without real financial investment in the arts, the Fargo we saw on ESPN could look very different next time around, and the community will be poorer for it.

This is the third in a series of columns based on creative placemaking from Dayna Del Val, executive director of The Arts Partnership. For more information about the arts and culture happening in and around our community, go to theartspartnership.net/artspulse.