College Arts Programs Entertain Residents and Revitalize Cities

By Lisa Battles on August 14, 2013 at 7:00 am CDT

College arts programs greatly contribute to the school's overall "vibe," and many cities are successfully leveraging that to improve the arts and cultural options available to residents.

What combination of details creates a college town's vibe can be hard to pinpoint. Even if you do narrow it down, the combination will vary from town to town. We explored many of those details in our recent Top 10 College Towns list, but generally, what it comes down to is this: The people in a place define the character of a place.

In a college town, the population includes a pool of young people primarily there to learn and innovate, plus another pool of people primarily there to teach them. As a result, the town becomes fertile ground for new ideas, which usually manifest in independent businesses, recreation amenities and a variety of entertainment you'd expect progressive thinkers to demand. This is the exact creative, educated, youthful population cities everywhere seem to want. College towns are already ahead of that game by default.

Along with the college crowd comes creative expression, whether individually or as part of official arts programs and at college venues. This significantly adds to – and sometimes completely creates – the arts scene for a city, keeping residents entertained and often catalyzing economic development. Editor Matt Carmichael touched on this in his post Monday.

Here are a couple of examples from cities where a university's investment in arts venues greatly impacted the cultural scene for residents:

  • The $34 million L.E. and Thelma E. Stephens Performing Arts Center in Pocatello, Idaho opened in 2005 on a hilltop overlooking the city, quickly becoming an iconic structure for Idaho State University and the city alike. The center books its grand concert hall, two theaters, and rotunda with both local and nationally touring music, dance, and theater productions, and most events are open to the public. The facility also rents its spaces to both college and general populations, with higher fees for non-ISU rentals.
  • Mississippi State University raised and invested more than $25 million to restore an 1889 Grand Opera House and two adjoining historic buildings in Meridian, Miss., where the Starkville-based university operates a campus. In 2006, the community celebrated the opening of the MSU Riley Center, a performing arts venue, conference center and educational facility that restored a significant portion of downtown Meridian, draws more than 60,000 people to the district annually, and is the centerpiece of the state's first designated entertainment district.

And don't discount the power of community colleges in making similar positive impacts within their cities, too. For example:

  • At Uptown Martinsville, Va.'s The Artisan Center, a program of Patrick Henry Community College, guests can pick up information about area attractions at this official visitor center site. Residents and visitors can shop for local artists' original art, while others can take art classes in pottery, stained glass, painting and more. The center formed in 2005 through a collaborative effort between PHCC, The Artisans Center of Virginia, and the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Tourism & Film Commission, giving people a few more reasons to visit the city's uptown district.
  • Happening in my native Decatur, Ala.: A new arts school, the North Alabama School for Fine Arts, will open soon in the heart of downtown through a joint effort of Athens-based Calhoun Community College, Athens State University, the City of Decatur,  Morgan County and the Decatur Downtown Redevelopment Authority. The new structure faces the city's restored circa-1919 Princess Theatre, a block down from a newly opened Mellow Mushroom and part of a very recently designated open-container entertainment district.


Reader Comments Use a Facebook account to comment. Subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment.