In the NCLAC office we spend a lot of time championing the ideals of an artistic community for the sake of, well, art and community. But we do believe we offer more, in that we are a cultural economy catalyst. “Cultural economy” may loosely be defined as the assumptions, attitudes, and beliefs that affect the industries, businesses, and physical building environment a localized economy will support. For example, when I came back to Ruston to attend Louisiana Tech University over ten years ago there was not a sushi restaurant here, and if you asked anyone about it, most folks gave you quite a horrified look when you said you indeed wanted to eat “raw fish.” Today, most folks in town are very accepting and supportive of our sushi establishments. This is reflective of a change in our culture, a broadening of ideals and willingness to diversify our expectations, and the businesses we will support, that comes with the exposure to new cultures and experiences.
But why do this? Are we wiping out the uniqueness of Ruston by adapting it to many new experiences, or enriching it? Many researchers in this field believe that when cultural institutions instigate change by providing exposure to new experiences it does enrich the community in question. For instance, as a student on Tech campus I remember going to my first International Scholarship Dinner. I had no idea Tech had students that came from so many countries, but after the dinner I warmly looked for these students and their cultural influences across campus. Within the microcosm of Tech campus a much wider range of cultural expectations is the norm and makes the student body stronger, while just a few blocks away in downtown Ruston the environment is basically mono-cultural. The type of businesses Ruston supports tend to occupy a narrow range, and without creative community members and cultural institutions, I believe it would be even narrower.
I agree with Robert Putnam’s findings that an active and enriched cultural environment augment a society’s capacity to thrive socially and economically, and Richard Florida’s studies that argue creative community members are attracted to these enriched areas that foster more diversified interests and opportunities for greater artistic expression. Florida also states that these individuals bring new jobs and industries with them. Several examples of these conclusions that come to my mind are NCLAC’s relatively new downtown neighbors: Kelly Moore Bag, Makers Union, Fine Line Art Supply & Print Lab, PAIR Gallery, and Pastry Moon. These are only a few of the creative stores and owners that are fleshing out Ruston’s historic economic center, retaining a young and talented work force, and giving back to our community in the form of economic and social investment. Is it coincidence that these businesses popped up in the creative environment NCLAC has tried to foster? I like to think there is a correlation, and I hope the trend continues as entities like NCLAC, the Dixie Center for the Arts, and other cultural institutions remain invested and actively engaged our local community.
-Laura Hunt Miller, NCLAC Executive Assistant