LITTLE ROCK – At first glance, arts and technology would appear to be opposites in how they are taught and how they affect economic development.
However, a bipartisan group of legislators has been working since 2018 to build the case that there is a crucial intersection where the arts and technology meet.
They contend that people in every corner of Arkansas can improve their quality of life, and better secure economic prosperity, if they recognize and promote this “creative economy.”
Act 577 of 2021 created the Legislative Arts and Technology Boot Camp, which recently issued a detailed report based on surveys and meetings across the state.
The report has an inventory of artistic assets in all 75 counties, and offers a glimpse of how many occupations and businesses rely on artistic creativity. As the Senate co-chairman of the Boot Camp said, “art is not just singing and dancing and music.”
For example, physicians in Jonesboro told legislators how they use painting, drawing, sculpting and other forms of creative expression to improve patient outcomes. Art is especially helpful with elderly patients and with children who have suffered trauma.
In Texarkana the legislators heard from educators about the role of the arts in the robotics program at local schools.
The advertising industry values graphic design, which is also used in creating job training videos and architectural designs. Graphic design is essential for aerospace companies that build airplanes with custom-made interiors, and for furniture makers and boat manufacturers that make customized products.
With new incentives, Arkansas could attract more film companies to produce more movies here.
Colleges and universities could offer more credit hours in film production and music recording. Arkansas colleges offer classes in 3D printing technology, which has applications in manufacturing, the aerospace industry, health care, dentistry and product design.
The legislators recommended adding two members to the Arkansas Film Commission Office, and adding members to the Arkansas Economic Development Commission who recognize the importance of the arts in the overall economy.
Creativity has boosted sectors in the agricultural economy. People pay to spend a weekend on farms learning how to dye and weave cotton and wool. Tourists seek gourmet and specialty food where it is grown, but high speed Internet access is essential.
Tourism relies heavily on Internet marketing. The combination of creativity and technology means there is potential for tourism in all areas of Arkansas, not just in the well-known tourist destinations and the cities known for art galleries, museums and theater.
For example, GIS tours allow visitors to take self-guided tours that in Arkansas could include an old churches trail, a quilting trail, a BBQ joint trail and a murals trail.
The Arts and Technology Boot Camp supports making broadband accessible in every part of Arkansas, and providing grants to support local efforts.
A regional approach may be necessary in order to “connect and amplify” art and technology programs in sparsely populated rural areas.
Members of the Arts and Technology Boot Camp recommended creation of a permanent subcommittee of the legislative Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development Committee, which would focus on the creative economy.