What is ‘Cultural Tourism’? – Analyzing the Role of the Arts in Texas’ Population Surge
If you haven’t looked at I-75 in a while you may not have noticed that Dallas is suddenly bursting at the seams. CultureMap noted that in 2019 alone, over 525,000 people flocked to Texas. Add to that the statistic from US News that our humble city is #24 on the list of the top 150 metro areas to relocate to. Doesn’t it all make you wonder: why Dallas?
For the Director of the Office of Arts and Culture for the City of Dallas, Jennifer Scripps, who recently sat down with TACA’s Terry D. Loftis for the second installment of our ‘Leaders on Leaders’ series, the city’s burgeoning appeal to prospective new residents and businesses and its potential as a cultural tourism hot spot isn’t peculiar at all.
“I have four grad school friends who ask me, “How is Dallas really?” I tell them I love it here. You can get any kind of food you want, see all kinds of shows, college and professional sports, the list goes on.”
With the unique ability the cultural arts have to infiltrate and influence all levels of society, it can no longer be denied that our talented performers, creators, and arts leaders deserve just as much credit for Dallas’ recent boom in popularity as our sports teams, low cost-of-living, and unparalleled BBQ.
Here’s their conversation.
JS: Can we talk about cultural tourism?
TL: That’s a topic our Silver Cup 2021 honoree Sam Self loves to talk about. Sam says that here in Dallas, we don’t have mountains or oceans or the typical things that draw in tourists, so it’s paramount that we really invest in the arts and culture as a city, and I agree with him wholeheartedly. If an individual or a company were looking to relocate here, our cultural tourism would be a key factor in their decision-making.
JS: I’m remembering a failed attempt to attract Boeing here back in 2001. It didn’t work and it served as a serious wake-up call for Dallas.
TL: This is a notable example of how the arts are an economic engine. When you leave out an incredibly valuable part of what makes our city a destination, you’re leaving dollars, jobs, and coveted opportunities on the table. I also think the arts should have a voice with policymakers and elected officials like industries do, and there is something to be learned there for the future.
JS: You’re right. We didn’t have lobbyists ready to go once the pandemic hit, unlike the airlines or other industries that sought support. We didn’t have that voice. It took us longer to regroup because we’re artists at heart, right? A good parallel is the hospitality industry, which employs thousands of people across Dallas. They’ve been impacted severely, but most people automatically considered how the employees in that industry were impacted by the pandemic – unlike the arts.
TL: As someone who grew up in Dallas, I remember when none of this – the Dallas Arts District – or the amazing facilities and organizations – were here. You would think, with all of that to offer, we shouldn’t have to work so hard to sell the arts as a major feature of our city.
JS: I’m optimistic on this front. A couple of things have helped – were getting a larger share of the hotel occupancy tax. The arts community advocated brilliantly for that, and it worked. Second, Craig Davis has been hired to lead the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau. Craig really gets it, and he and his team went through a full process of hiring a new marketing firm to help sell Dallas nationally.
TL: Yes, I see other cities and states promoting themselves on billboards and TV ads all the time.
JS: Yes, that’s what Denver is doing with their latest campaign, and we need to be doing a better job of that in other markets. Data tells us that the first part of tourism to recover is the ‘drive’ market, meaning those who drive to Dallas to shop, see family or something that feels comfortable, maybe before they consider flying here. This is where the arts come in. They’re a huge incentive for tourists to stay longer and spend more, and I think we’re starting to see some real traction here. In terms of attracting businesses to Dallas, especially large Fortune 500 corporations, we know arts and culture are important, but we have to do more, collaborate more, and be more strategic to highlight the scene here.
TL: I agree, it’s key to attracting businesses, not to mention the top talent for those respective industries who may be considering moving here for job opportunities.
JS: I have four grad school friends who are considering a move here from the coasts. They’re interested in the schools here, and ask me, “How is Dallas really? Like, as a place to live?” I get this question a lot, and I tell them I love it here. You can get any kind of food you want, see all kinds of shows, college and professional sports, the list goes on. And you can get on an airplane and go anywhere. Our central location has big benefits.
TL: Do you believe that, from an economic development perspective, our elected officials have prioritized the arts as a means of luring people and businesses to town?
JS: We’ve been extremely fortunate, especially with the Dallas City Council members who are supportive of the arts and realize its positive impact. I think we can do better at honing the message and explaining how the arts have a real, quantifiable benefit to the city and residents, not to mention tourists. Former Mayor Mike Rawlings was such a gift to us. He loves the arts and he really got it.
TL: We haven’t talked much today about philanthropy.
JS: I’m so grateful for what TACA has been doing, starting with the Emergency Arts Relief Fund right as the pandemic was beginning to devastate the arts. I know it kept the roof over organizations’ heads in some cases, making sure people had enough to eat, keeping the power and Wi-Fi on, all those critical needs we have as we transitioned to living with the pandemic. As this cloud begins to lift, I think we’ll see the arts sector slow to recover.
TL: The survey we released earlier this year, showing the pandemic had a $95 million economic impact on arts organizations and artists, brings a grave context to why we were so passionately focused on the Emergency Fund. That kind of loss trickles down and hits every sector of the city’s pocketbook, so through helping the arts, we have an entry point toward helping the city at large.
JS: Absolutely. The fact that TACA and other organizations, backed by generous philanthropists in our city, acted quickly in that moment is significant. I don’t want to downplay the impact COVID has had on the arts here, but we have been able to avoid some of the disastrous effects other cities have experienced. I thank philanthropists for that.
TL: They rose to the challenge. They showed everyone, nationally, that the arts matter in Dallas.
Click here to read Terry and Jennifer’s first conversation from our ‘Leaders on Leaders’ series.