The place is Wilmington, Del., a city located halfway between New York City and Washington, D.C. This city is fortunate to have a riverfront that was at one time a polluted, industrial wasteland which was thought to be nothing but a dumping ground.

Today, thanks to the vision of many folks in Wilmington and the state of Delaware, the riverfront has been transformed into a thriving destination for people across the country to enjoy. Wilmington is now an up-and-coming cosmopolitan city that is attracting major corporations, restaurants, hotels, shopping, entrepreneurial ventures, and all types of residential developments. Cultural and arts attractions abound as well. Old, run-down warehouses have been replaced with restaurants, shops, and theatres. Historic buildings have been preserved and renovated for corporate headquarters.

In short, companies and investors took a chance on something that on the surface looked to be a bad investment and have now turned this riverfront into a major destination spot. Original investors are now seeking more property. Restaurants and living spaces are thriving and future plans hold great promise including such projects as a wildlife refuge, a children’s museum, ball fields, arts venues, and much more! The city provides all the excitement and amenities that the young workforce generation is looking for — the pure enjoyment of living around culture, entertainment, and working along a scenic riverfront. In a phrase, it is quality of life.

So why am I sharing this story with you?

Last month, we talked about our riverfront and the development of it. Thanks to Gov. Asa Hutchinson naming the Fort Smith riverfront area in what is called an Opportunity Zone, we may get the see our downtown and riverfront area develop into something much like what has happened in Wilmington. We are poised and ready!

As I talk about this, I realize that this subject is all about economic development. However, the arts play a vital role in driving economic and community development. In fact, when Fortune 500 companies are deciding where to locate, they want to know all about the cultural and artistic opportunities.

Those of us in the arts are always talking about how important cultural organizations are in creating a vibrant and thriving economy as well as building an engaged community. Today, let me give you some facts about the importance the arts play in our economy.

1.) In a recent national poll, ticket sales for cultural events accounted for one-third of patron spending while the remaining two-thirds was spent on restaurants, transportation, hotels, retail shops and child care. Seventy-five percent of the patrons surveyed reported the primary reason for their outing was to attend an artistic event. As you can see, cultural experiences clearly drive an economy. This is particularly true in an historic downtown or riverfront area. And add to that the fact that many jobs are created directly and indirectly through cultural organizations.

2.) Arts organizations attract patrons from both inside and outside their community. Tourism can be big business where the arts are involved. Studies have shown that patrons visiting from out of state spend three times higher than local patrons, generating additional income for the city.

3.) The arts foster a sense of community involvement. In fact, there is a direct correlation in participation in arts activities and an increase in civic engagement such as volunteering, charitable work, and voting as documented by the National Endowment for the Arts. Creating quality of life gives a community a sense of well-being which in turn motivates people to do more.

4.) A thriving cultural climate will have enhanced educational opportunities for children and youth. Early exposure to the arts gives children and young people the opportunity to develop skills that will make them successful throughout life — such as self-confidence, creativity, problem solving, discipline and team-building. While this is so important educationally, creating cultural activities for our young people builds the economy and creates an energy within the community.

5.) Finally, quality of life is now cited as the major driver behind global competitiveness and a city’s ability to attract superb talent to live, work, and raise a family. Arts activities have literally risen to the top in terms of defining a city or region. Great arts are critical to making a city great. The arts are what bring people together.

I have shared this with you today because as an arts organization, CSA will be creating an educational center on our riverfront that will house exceptional artists and professionals who will live and work here. They will build an engaging artistic climate for children and young people, create a vibrancy in our community that will drive the economy, and at the same time contribute to our overall quality of place that will be second to none.

Dr. Rosilee Russell is the founder/executive director of Community School of the Arts. Contact her at Rosilee.Russell@CSAFortSmith.org, call (479) 434-2880 or visit www.CSAFortSmith.org.