There's enough room here for arts and sports
I grew up in a house where it was common to hear Beethoven or Miles Davis on the stereo on a Saturday morning, giving way to the frenzied cheers and rivalries of college football on the television in the afternoon. That's why it always disappoints me to see an argument pitting arts against sports, as if one shouldn't be allowed to appreciate a well-executed jazz solo as much as a well-executed pick-and-roll.
That argument's been front-and-center in Sherwood over the past few years. Arts advocates are irate that money from the Sherwood Urban Renewal District has gone to building an indoor soccer complex and a turf field at the high school. The city's leadership says there's more support for sports than the arts in town.
It's unfortunate, because these are both noble causes. I believe it's as important for a kid to have a place to practice corner kicks as it is for her to have a place to practice for the chamber orchestra. But there's only so much public money to go around, and after the developments of the past few years, there are more opportunities for athletes than actors.
For a moment, let's try to strip the emotion from the argument. Forget about whose kids play soccer versus whose kids are in the choir. Set aside the argument about which activities are better at building leadership skills or enriching lives. Let's instead look at this issue from a purely economic standpoint, because while those other arguments are subjective, this one has clear answer: When it comes to economic impact, cultural arts trump local sports.
This is not to say the city should not have built the Old Town Field House, I'm glad they did. But anyone who's still saying, "if, when and how" we build a cultural arts center should do the community a huge favor and drop the "if" from that statement.
Why? Because nothing provides immediate and sustained economic strength to a downtown core like an arts center can.
Five years ago, I worked in a town that was about where Sherwood is now from an economic standpoint (coincidentally, they recently installed blue lamp posts). Things were sluggish downtown. Then the century-old theater reopened. It kept the stage as well as the movie screen, allowing it to show classic and independent films, hold plays and book live music. The pizza shop, one restaurant and convenient store that existed then have since been joined by a regional brewpub chain, an upscale restaurant, a sports bar, a French bistro, a karate studio and several boutiques. The coffee shop that had been struggling to keep its doors open now hosts post-movie discussion groups to keep weeknight business brisk. The town is located about 15 miles from the nearest major urban center (sound familiar?) and people drive into the suburbs to visit the theater.
There are differences between that town and Sherwood, the biggest being that there's no existing theater here. But if the city can overcome that formidable obstacle and find a way to establish a cultural arts center in Old Town, and if cultural arts advocates can create a plan versatile enough to accept all forms of the arts, the payoff will be dramatic.
I've spent my whole life playing sports or attending sporting events. During a game I spend a few bucks at a vendor, and with youth sports, those profits are often going back into the league anyway. When I was a teenager, maybe we stopped by the nearest fast food chain to scarf down a value meal. But I've gone to a lot of concerts, movies and plays, and more often than not, those events have been preceded by a dinner and ended with a cup of coffee.
Of course, this is about more than just economic impact. A cultural arts center will give any local kids who listen to John Coltrane in the morning and watch Tom Brady in the afternoon a place to explore both of their passions.