Each issue of Cultural Heritage Tourism News will profile one national agency or organization that is part of Partners in Tourism.
This issue features:
Coordinator, Federal Partnerships,
Office of Governmental Affairs,
National Endowment for the Arts
1) How did the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) first
become involved in cultural heritage tourism?
The NEA has always supported quality arts projects such as exhibitions and performances, many of which attract large numbers of tourists. For example, the NEA supported the development of the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, SC, because of the high quality of its performances, but the Festival has proven a long-term, major tourism attraction for Charleston.
However, the agency’s first efforts specifically focused on cultural tourism development date back to the 1980s. The agency’s first involvement was a paper I wrote in the early 1980s with the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA) and the Travel Industry Association of America (TIA). We surveyed state arts agencies and state travel offices to find out what, if anything, they were doing together in the area of tourism. What we learned was that very little was happening beyond just a small amount of cooperation, largely for calendars of events. That paper served as a wake up call about missed opportunities.
At about the same time, the then-United States Travel and Tourism Administration (USTTA) introduced two new questions on their survey for international visitors to the U.S. The USTTA asked whether the travelers had visited a museum or gallery or gone to a play or musical while visiting the United States. This was, to my knowledge, the first public data linking culture and tourism in the U.S. and that research played a significant role in getting people to really think about the possibilities presented by cultural tourism. The TIA soon added similar questions to its domestic traveler survey.
In 1989, the NEA made its first substantial investment in cultural tourism development through a Challenge Grant to the National Trust for Historic Preservation for a three-year Heritage Tourism Initiative. This initiative worked intensively with 16 regions in four states, and resulted in the development of guiding principles and steps for successful and sustainable programs. More importantly, it really put cultural tourism on the map in the United States.
In 1995, the NEA joined the other cultural agencies in playing an important role at the White House Conference on Travel and Tourism and was one of the founding Partners in Tourism. The agencies followed this conference with support for a series of regional cultural tourism forums that raised the profile of cultural tourism dramatically.
The NEA supported California: Culture’s Edge, an innovative public-private partnership through which three major cities in California teamed up to showcase their rich cultural resources. This multi-million dollar marketing campaign successfully worked to increase cultural tourism to California.
Other important recent cultural tourism projects include: the Blue Ridge Heritage Trails created by the North Carolina Arts Council; the Crooked Road: Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail; and Cultural Cascades, an international cultural tourism effort with Vancouver, Canada, Portland, OR, and Seattle.
2) What programs does the NEA currently have to support
cultural heritage tourism?
Again, NEA continues its support for performances and exhibitions that are cultural tourism attractions. In addition the NEA currently has two programs that offer support specifically for tourism-oriented projects.
The first is our Challenge America program. The guidelines for Challenge America include tourism as an eligible funding category, including “…projects that enhance cultural tourism or cultural districts through the unified promotion of community-wide arts activities and resources.” For fiscal year 2007, the NEA provided $1.36M in funding (136 projects at $10K each) for Challenge America grants.
For example, Challenge America supported the First Friday Art Trail in Lubbock, Texas. Free trolleys provide continuous transportation between participating Art Trail venues during this series of monthly arts events to promote the arts in downtown Lubbock and the surrounding areas. Another example is the Mountain Culture Festival in Hunter, New York. This 7-year old summer event promotes regional crafts and performing artists and draws an annual audience of more than 6,000 to the area.
The NEA also helped to create and continues to support the Share Your Heritage program that has included cultural heritage tourism success stories, training materials and workshops. In 2002, the NEA and the Appalachian Regional Commission jointly funded Building Creative Economies, a conference on the links between the arts and sustainable development. The NEA and ARC continued their partnership by supporting Share Your Heritage cultural tourism development workshops in Appalachia. We are excited that this year, this partnership has expanded to bring in The Conservation Fund in addition to the National Trust for Historic Preservation to address cultural heritage tourism issues in gateway communities, which often experience some of the strongest pressures from tourism growth.
3) What advice would you offer to organizations hoping to work
with the NEA on cultural heritage tourism programs?
The NEA-supported website at www.culturalheritagetourism.org is a great initial resource for anyone trying to learn more about how to run a successful cultural heritage tourism program, as are many of the how-to publications that the NEA has supported over the years such as Share Your Heritage: Cultural Heritage Tourism Success Stories and Stories Across America: Opportunities for Rural Tourism.
For organizations that haven’t applied to government arts agencies before, the first step should be to contact your local or state arts agency. If you are thinking about a project that includes folk art forms, be sure to consult your state folklorist (visit http://afsnet.org/tapnet/).
Keep in mind that the primary interest of your local or state arts agency may be the arts component or your project, not the project’s tourism potential. State arts agencies are most concerned about ensuring artistic quality, and, if you work with a state humanities council, their top priority is usually the project’s scholarly value. To create an effective collaboration with arts (or humanities) agencies, be sure to position your ideas to meet the shared goals of all the partners involved. Your state arts agency should be able to help you identify opportunities to work with the NEA. Additionally, anyone interested in the Challenge America grant program or other NEA funding opportunities is welcome to contact me directly at email@example.com.
4) What’s the appeal of cultural heritage tourism for you
It’s really about a sense of place – the natural beauty of a rural area, the built environment of a city, the history and culture of the people who have lived there, and – most of all - the serendipity of personal connections with the people who live there now. I’ve always enjoyed learning about what life has been like (or is like) for people in other parts of the country and world. One of my first memorable tourism experiences was as a young boy when my family traveled to Niagara Falls. My mother happened to strike up a conversation with the person behind her in line at the local corner store; he turned out to be the person in charge of running the light show on the falls at night. He invited us to join him at his job, and I still remember pulling the levers to change the lights on the waterfall.
More recently, we were visiting my son in Leiden in the Netherlands. While visiting the Leiden American Pilgrim Museum, we happened to strike up a conversation with our tour guide, who, we learned, is the museum director a former curator of Plimouth Plantation in Massachusetts and the author of numerous books about the Pilgrims. I’ve found that these accidental meetings are often most interesting and enjoyable parts of travel.
If you came to visit me in my home town of Alexandria, I’d take you to the Torpedo Factory Art Center, our history museum at the Lyceum, the walking trail along the Potomac, St. Elmo’s Coffee House – the spark that revitalized a whole neighborhood – and, for the train buffs, Alexandria Union Station where we could talk about railroads in Alexandria, particularly during the Civil War. And I’d take you to the Birchmere for some country music.
After all, the true cultural tourist should be able to find the Friday night jam session.
Tony Tighe has worked for the National Endowment for the Arts for the
past 30 years. He currently lives in Alexandria, Virginia, with his wife Patrice. Their two grown children live in Leiden and Chicago.
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