It's an eternal question: What is art? In an essay, no less an authority  than Leo Tolstoy did his best to provide an answer, writing: "In order to correctly define art, it is necessary, first of all, to cease to consider it as a means to pleasure and consider it as one of the conditions of human life.”

Throughout history, arts and innovation define a period of time.  Creativity, that important 21st century workplace skill enables us in our daily lives to innovate, connects us individually and as a society and infuses our lives with hope.

It may surprise you to discover that Sonoma County has a diverse arts community. From studio tours to sculpture gardens, innovative performances to perennial and contemporary favorites, local music legends to international headliners, Sonoma County offers a world-class arts scene to please any palate.

Just like our unique balance of climate and soil combine to create ideal growing conditions for wine grapes and other agricultural crops, Sonoma County’s distinct local cultures and proximity to San Francisco’s international scene make it a remarkably diverse artistic community.

With over 120 performing arts companies, 34 performing venues, 83 museums and galleries, and over 27,000 individual artists of every discipline, we are often said to have more artists per capita than anywhere else in California. Spread throughout our cities and towns—and sometimes right in Nature—that adds up to approximately 250 cultural arts events each week during peak season and an average of 190 off-peak. No matter the season, there’s always something to inspire and entertain.

The role of the arts in a community, particularly in challenging economic times is as vital to our community as the infrastructure that supports it and an equal argument can be made for valuing the arts like the economic engine that they are to the  economic fabric of a community.  Countless cities have used the arts to revitalize old neighborhoods, create nightlife in fading downtowns, and spur economic development.

During 2010, travel spending in Sonoma County accounted for $1.2 billion in gross revenue, and over 16,000 local jobs. Travel spending contributed just over 80 million in government revenue.  Of that, arts, entertainment, and recreation generated $243,000 million in gross revenue and 6,445 jobs in Sonoma County.  (1)

Two counties in California are aggressively courting the 7.5 million tourists that visit Sonoma County every year, and utilizing the arts as a tourism driver to encourage them to visit their county instead of Sonoma County.  Wouldn’t we rather increase our tourism base than see a decline in market share?

While the Arts Council of Sonoma County is recognized by the State and authorized by the Board of Supervisors to represent the arts as a state-local partner, it is an unfunded mandate.  We advocate for visibility, access and quality and are committed to linking arms with the 130 non profit art organizations, over 27,000 artists and for profit art businesses to join together in transforming Sonoma County into a cultural arts destination that better serves our resident and visitor base. 

The government and business sector can aid in this by incorporating creative industries into regional planning, developing strategies to provide support for the arts and culture sector; ensuring creative industries are included in community development plans; and assessing the impact the arts and culture sector can have in enhancing regional tourism.

We believe that leveraging our region's creative industries can be a valuable asset and play a meaningful role in economic strategies.  As cited by a number of comprehensive research reports, many regions and states have found ways to harness the economic benefits the arts and culture sector can have on that geographic area.

The citizens of our region deserve a quality of life that includes the nurturing and expressive aspects of the arts. The arts humanize community, and give us inspiration and opportunities to connect as people. The arts also hold great financial and economic benefit for Sonoma County, as a draw for tourism and industry for our citizens. It behooves government, business, and the arts sectors to work together to create a supportive atmosphere for the arts, and to support cultural entrepreneurship, and artists’ ability to earn a decent living. In so doing, together we not only enhance the life experiences available in Sonoma County, but also tap the revenue streams created by the arts and cultural economic impact....

Jennifer Sloan is the executive director of the Arts Council of Sonoma County, 707.579.2787 jsloan@artscouncilsc.com or visit www.artscouncilsc.com.