Why Art Matters: Smalltown Economics

By Rose Weagant Olcott

To be able to say in all honesty “I am an artist” is no small thing. Ask most folks in metropolitan areas what they do for a living, and you’ll often get an answer that’s likely above our analog heads. But in the Methow, it’s different. You can walk down Glover Street in Twisp and greet a ceramicist, a sign maker, a jeweler and no doubt some tech whiz who’s designing the next big thing in sustainable home design. This valley is made up of these creative characters for one main reason: Art not only thrives here, but it’s also a sustainable industry and keeps folks in firewood all winter long. Art begets art and art sales beget art sales and soon you’ve got this cool little art pocket in North Central Washington.

Every dollar you spend is visibly meaningful for the local economy. Its distribution isn’t something digital or ineffable. There are quantified reasons that we keep local. For every dollar spent, it becomes bacon, eggs and healthcare for the artists and their families.

(Artwork by Chris Fackler-Lowery. Photo by Rose Weagant Olcott.)

Here’s what happens when you buy local art:

*You raise artists. When you buy art, you show those around you the importance of appreciating other people’s creations. Children realize that this appreciation is an active choice. They begin to understand the importance of art and artisan products as an integral part of our culture. It’s the humanities which make us human. In teaching our children the value of art, we proliferate a love for finer things.

*More local art gets made. This is a delicious cycle. When you buy local art, you’re not buying from some big, fancy corporate giant. Oftentimes it’s from a small nonprofit gallery or cooperative gallery or right from the hands of the artist.

*You support creative industry. Adding art to your own personal collection does so much more for a small community than you think. Sure, each sale may be a one-off, but they add up. In 2017 the Confluence Gallery paid out over $99,000 to local and regional artists. That additional money flowing throughout the Methow Valley changes the shape of success for the local creative industry. When you buy from local artists, you aren’t just buying a piece of art, but you’re buying piano, karate or dance lessons for their children. You’re putting food on their table (the food is being purchased locally as well, so those farmers can afford art classes for their children). Every dollar you spend is visibly meaningful for the local economy.

*You validate the arts. If you remember in Peter Pan when Tinkerbell was nearly dead and Peter appealed to the audience to believe in fairies with clapping. While not as dramatic or twinkly, buying art does pretty much the same thing

There’s a strange thing that happens when folks stop purchasing a particular thing: It stops being made. It stops happening. It stops being taught in school, and then art becomes an analog relic collecting dust in attics. But with every single art purchase, no matter how large or small, you’re giving the art industry life.