Over the last decade, the Arts Center Task Force (ACTF) has worked to meet our region’s needs for a performing arts center. The proposed Mid-Columbia Arts Center will include an 800-seat theatre, large multi-use lobby, art gallery, and educational space for the community. It will be able to host a variety of arts and culture events including live performances and concerts, art shows, film festivals, and speakers. Designed to accommodate a full schedule of local events and host traveling shows, the Arts Center will be financially viable and support job growth in the Tri- Cities.

Before COVID-19, Washington State had the fastest growing arts and culture economy in the nation, outpacing the national average by six points, with 12 percent growth and adding more than $40 billion to our economy, according to the National Endowment for the Arts.

In 2017, Richland alone had $130 million in creative industry sales. The Mid-Columbia Symphony, Ballet, Mastersingers, and Musical Theatre alone created 57 full-time equivalent employees with over $1.2 million in wages. All without a dedicated performance space.

Imagine the economic growth our vibrant arts community could stimulate with a professional-quality performing arts center. For example, Thurston County Washington Center for the Performing Arts is similar to our planned facility. In its first year of operation, the Washington Center created 52 jobs, $2.3 million in labor income, and more than $5 million in total economic production. Every $1 spent through the Washington Center returned $2.10 to the surrounding economy.

However, ACTF is aware of the climate created by the pandemic. COVID-19 has not only presented a challenge for our economic, educational, and health systems, it could lead to a cultural crisis and challenge the very essence of what makes us a community. The necessary steps taken to protect the most vulnerable in our communities—staying home and distancing—have left many of us with a profound existential exhaustion. Our community needs the arts to help us make sense of this moment, give us comfort, help us heal or mourn, and help us rebuild the connections that define us as Tri-Citizens.

President Roosevelt’s New Deal offers an example of how an investment in the arts can help rebuild the economy. In response to the social anxieties of the Great Depression, the New Deal funded federal arts and history projects as part of the Works Progress Administration to rebuild America, but it was about much more than job creation. At the heart of the WPA’s investment in the creative economy was the recognition that art has the ability to heal and to unite a nation in turmoil.

At the ACTF we look to the example set by the ‘Greatest Generation.’ We are working with the community and our civic leaders to build the region’s first performing arts center because an investment in our arts community is a smart economic investment for a better tomorrow.

For more information on our efforts please visit artscentertaskforce.com.

Davin Diaz is Executive Director of the Arts Center Task Force and founder of DrewBoy Creative. He also serves on the board of Inspire Washington and the Tri-Cities Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.