Investing in the Creativity Sector

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Synopsis

Community banking’s expanded role in fostering local Arts

GET READY FOR exciting new products from your local bank:  online billpay, low-fee mortgages and cool jazz.

Yes, jazz. As in live, while-you-wait-for-a-teller jazz.

Every Tuesday and Thursday at 1 p.m., piano virtuosi David Caldwell-Mason and Patrick Poladian play an hour set of bebop, bossa nova and swing standards for listeners gathered in the main lobby of RSI Bank in downtown Rahway, New Jersey.

It’s a highly visible (and audible) example of a local financial institution investing — literally and consistently — in the local creativity sector.

“As a community bank, giving back to the people we serve is of the utmost importance to us,” says RSI Bank President and CEO David R. Taylor.

What sets that statement apart from standard ad slogans is that it’s backed up by the full faith and credit of RSI Bank’s ongoing support for the Rahway cultural milieu.

Urban planners take note:  combining private Capital with public Arts is Step One in laying the groundwork for civic renewal. [1]

When the idea of a Rahway Arts District took shape in the late 1990s, RSI Bank was one of the first local businesses that signed on to aid the initial investment foundation.

As envisioned by then Rahway mayor James J. Kennedy, the District would incorporate a refurbished commuter railway station, new hotels and housing that included affordable rentals for working artists, a state-of-the-art performing arts center and redevelopment funding for streetscape improvements, studio space and year-round Arts and Arts Education programming for Rahway’s 27,000 residents.

“At the beginning of the process, we had a hard time convincing people that the Arts were key to reviving the town,” recalls Kennedy. “But RSI was a staunch supporter of the concept from day one. Their cornerstone involvement made a huge difference in making things move in the right direction quickly. ”

Today, the Rahway Arts District coalition is recognized nationally as a creative placemaking success story. Former National Endowment for the Arts chair Rocco Landesman called Rahway “a model of how Arts can revitalize a community.”

The re-branding of Rahway as an innovation-focused Arts hub has since attracted over $700 million dollars in building projects that radically transformed the look and feel of the New York City bedroom community Nikola Tesla and Carl Sagan once called home, while adding millions in yearly revenue to the city coffers.

“Making the Arts an integral part of our economic planning has made Rahway a better place to live now while giving us a stable platform for growth in the years to come,” asserts Rahway City Council president Samson Steinman.

The business echelon agrees. “For us, it is a quality-of-life issue as much as it is good business practice,” maintains RSI Bank’s Taylor. “By supporting the Arts as an economic sector, the short- and long-term benefits will spread throughout the community, and our local businesses will see that in their bottom lines as well.”

The bank has underwritten a diverse range of Arts events including a concert series at Sight and Sound Conservatory, live poetry readings and piano performance by Jean-Michel Pilc at the annual Rahway Culture Crawl, the Rahway High School Madrigals holiday show, the Good Music/Mostly Classical concert series at Hamilton Stage, monthly performances for each Rahway First Thursdays street fair, lunchtime concerts featuring local musicians and drama groups and special concerts by 2013 Grammy nominee pianist Manual Valera, World Piano Competition winner Ilya Yakushev and Orchestra of St. Peter by the Sea.

In the visual arts field, RSI Bank operates the annual Artists Contest, a juried selection process awarding $5,000 in prizes. All entry fees, as well as commissions collected on works sold during the month-long exhibition, are donated directly to Arts Guild New Jersey, Rahway’s primary visual arts center.

In the last two years alone, RSI Bank’s community-directed contributions have surpassed a quarter million dollars, including the purchase of two world-class pianos for local Arts events — an Estonia Grand Piano in the bank lobby and a Bosendorfer Grand Piano, loaned to nearby Hamilton Stage for music, dance and theatre performances.

The bank’s systemic involvement at the grass-roots level reflects a national trend of increased community-based investment by America’s local financial institutions — a total of $61.4 billion in 2012, up from $41.7 billion in 2010. During the recent recession, nearly half of U.S. community banks boosted their business lending even as the country’s biggest banks were withdrawing credit from small businesses and corporations. [2]

At a 2012 national conference on community banking held by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), industry executives concurred in the view that community banks will survive and prosper only as long as they continue to serve their local communities

RSI Bank’s David Taylor was one of the conference panelists. “The right investments can give your community a very unique and desirable identity. At the end of the day, we hope what we do contributes to making Rahway a great place to visit and an even better place to live.”

And where you can hear an original jazz tune while studying the latest money market rates.


[1] The U.S. Arts industry annually generates $135.2 billion of economic activity ($61.1 billion by nonprofit arts and culture organizations in addition to $74.1 billion in event-related expenditures by their audiences). This economic activity supports 4.1 million full-time jobs while generating $22.3 billion in revenue to local, state and federal governments each year (as compared to a collective $4 billion payout by these governments in annual public arts allocations). SOURCE: The Economic Impact of Nonprofit Arts and Culture Organizations and Their Audiences, Americans for the Arts, Washington, DC, 2012.

[2] Report on Sustainable and Responsible Investing Trends in the United States, 2012, Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment, Washington, DC, 2012.

 

Tags: arts, arts funding, business, civic renewal, rahway arts district, urban planning

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