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OWENS: Nurture Savannah’s healthy arts culture

  • Savannah Philharmonic Orchestra (John Alexander Photography)

It’s easy to take things for granted. I feel like I do this all of the time. I take for granted the weather, the proximity to the beach, the availability of tomatoes year-round. We have so much to be thankful for.

What I really don’t want to take for granted is the amazing arts we have in Savannah.

Tonight, I will be going to the Savannah Philharmonic’s Season Finale, where our own community’s professional orchestra will be playing Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8 at the Johnny Mercer Theatre.

No doubt this show will be entertaining, and as a season ticket holder, I’ve been wowed by every performance. But, tonight, as I’ve been looking forward to this concert all season, it got me thinking how incredibly fortunate we are to have something like the Savannah Philharmonic in our city.

In the U.S., there are nearly 2,000 orchestras, but only about 20 percent have professional musicians like we do in Savannah, a city of fewer than 150,000 people.

And, a professional orchestra has a strong economic impact on our city, from employing musicians and bringing local residents downtown to enjoy the concert, eat at a restaurant, and if you’re like me hire a babysitter.

The Savannah Philharmonic does ZIP code surveys of guests attending concerts, and they generally find a number of attendees from all over who come to take in what we have in our backyard.

Having a healthy arts environment is good for commerce. We know that arts travelers, those who come here for the Savannah Philharmonic or to go to a gallery or museum, or any one of our arts offerings, spend more than many other travelers, take longer trips and shop more.

The U.S. Department of Commerce reports that, from 2003 to 2015, the percentage of international travelers who come to enjoy art at a destination increased from 17 percent to 29 percent.

Tourism has done a good job of creating tourism and arts partnerships to promote the arts. Visit Savannah highlights what we have going on in our city. Lodging properties encourage visitors to partake in our art offerings. Restaurants partner with artists to display their work. These are some of the ways, and surely there are more ways we could find to partner.

There is undoubtedly a great public value that our philharmonic brings to Savannah, and some would even argue (I certainly would) that a healthy philharmonic and a healthy art scene is an important gauge of Savannah’s civic health.

And, as most are largely privately funded organizations, there are plenty of reasons why you should support our local arts organizations – if not for anything but the impact of creativity and collaboration that is born out of the arts.

If you don’t know where to begin in supporting the arts, then join me tonight at the Season Finale of the Savannah Philharmonic at the Johnny Mercer Theatre at 7:30. As of this writing, there are still tickets available through Savannah Box Office.

Come and hear what Savannah artists are doing, look around and see how it affects commerce, and join in on the collaborations that are happening long after the music stops.

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Michael Owens is president/CEO of the Tourism Leadership Council, the largest non-profit trade organization that supports and represents the tourism community. Contact Owens at michael@tourismleadershipcouncil.com or by calling 912-232-1223.

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