Can arts groups work together to promote Rowan? New effort will find out

SALISBURY — Led by the Convention & Visitors Bureau, the arts community has launched a new effort to find a unified marketing strategy to lure tourists.

So far, the response has been overwhelming, said Barbara Perry, an organizer. Fifteen leaders from different arts organizations attended the first meeting last month of the Arts & Cultural Development Subcommittee, a group called for in the Rowan County Tourism Master Plan to come up with a united message for local arts and culture.

“Sometimes there is a perception that there is fierce infighting and competition within the arts community,” said James Meacham, executive director of the Convention & Visitors Bureau. “But there is collaboration to make Salisbury and Rowan arts thrive.”

The new effort has roots in two studies — the 2008 Cultural Action Plan developed by the city and the 2012 tourism master plan. Both suggest the need for a marketing strategy for the arts. The master plan was driven by survey results from 1,300 tourists, who answered questions online and in person at sites and attractions in Rowan County. Culture and arts ranked high in visitor interest.

The bureau, which is funded by hotel room taxes, will hire a consultant this summer at a cost of between $4,000 and $6,000 to work with the 18-member subcommittee, Meacham said. The task: Find the “unique selling proposition” for arts and culture in Rowan County.

In other words, come up with “why” tourists should check out the local arts scene, rather than “who,” “what” or “when,” Meacham said.

When similar groups work together instead of compete against each other, they pull in more visitors and all benefit, he said. Meacham gave the example of nine golf courses within 40 minutes of each other in Carson City, Nev.

The courses competed fiercely for years. But when they joined forces and became “the Divine Nine,” together they became one of the country’s top golf destinations.

Ed Norvell, who serves as chairman for the Arts & Cultural Development Subcommittee, said many arts organizations in Rowan already have started working more closely together. Joe Morris, a tourism master plan committee member from the LandTrust of Central North Carolina, said groups with similar events can market them jointly for more impact.

Last weekend, three theater companies all offered major productions: “Chicago” at the Meroney, “The Sugar” at Lee Street and “Annie” at Carson High School. This weekend, Catawba College’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” joins the line-up.

“With just a little bit of organization and scheduling around that and cross-promotion, we could have easily billed that as a theater festival,” Morris said, complete with a “passport” serving as one ticket to all the plays.

While she was optimistic about the initial positive reaction from arts groups, Perry said time will tell whether they are willing and able to work together.

Once the consultant makes recommendations, “that’s when we will see whether the cooperation is going to happen,” she said.

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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