Renee Margocee: Redefining WV through investment in the arts (Opinion)

This op-ed was published in West Virginia’s Charleston Gazette-Mail on March 24th. I believe Ms. Margocee’s perspective can translate to Garrett County and our economy. — Sarah

As West Virginians, we are engaged in the urgent but elusive task of imagining a new economy.

Although some may feel that this task has been delivered to us, not fully by choice, it represents an opportunity to re-cast ourselves and our state in a form that is by our own choosing.

Re-imagining is what artists do, have always done. Art is one way of asserting who we are and what we value instead of accepting what others impose. It’s time that we consider, however, that the power of art might extend beyond re-shaping narratives. Art can be a driving force behind growing and sustaining a vital new economy.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, West Virginia’s creative industries already add $1.6 billion to the state’s economy. With more robust funding and support for artist entrepreneurs, that figure would be even larger. Greater investment in small, creative businesses offers the potential to spark economic transformation statewide.

The template for such a metamorphosis already exists. Across West Virginia, artists who have been the recipients of well-directed investment are living out that transformation as we speak.

Rosalie Haizlett, a West Virginia-based illustrator, has witnessed firsthand the enormous impact that a little technical assistance can have on an artist’s career and community. As one of the first participants in the Emerging Artist Fellowship through the Tamarack Foundation for the Arts, Rosalie benefited from business training, networking, and professional exposure that enabled her career to take flight.

She is now the proprietor of a thriving small business built solely upon her own art, which she sells throughout the United States. Her visibility has skyrocketed, winning her clients like Smithsonian, KEEN, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, along with a social media following of tens of thousands.

And her success hers alone. As Rosalie’s business grows, so do the returns it generates for her community and for West Virginia.

Rosalie is certain that she would not be where she is today without the early resources and support she received, and many of West Virginia’s most successful artists say the same. The Emerging Artist Fellowship is just one of many Tamarack Foundation programs that set artists up for success through all stages of their career, equipping them with the tools needed to scale up and turn their creative talent into significant revenue.

The Tamarack Foundation’s premise is that every artist is also an entrepreneur. Yet, existing business development resources often leave them behind. Should we continue to underinvest in our state’s creative entrepreneurs, it would be an egregious missed opportunity: there is no one, and no industry, better positioned to drive, grow, and sustain a new economy in the Mountain State.

The numbers, though lower than they could be, speak for themselves. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reports that, in West Virginia, creative industries provide 18,326 jobs and yield $919 million in compensation to West Virginia families. Additionally, the National Endowment for the Arts has found that rural counties with strong arts organizations provide residents with incomes up to $6,000 higher than in neighboring counties and have experienced triple the population growth.

Of course, arts and culture are also crucial contributors to West Virginia’s $4.6 billion tourism market. But the impact of creative entrepreneurs far exceeds that of the businesses they run. They are ambassadors for our state—improving quality of place and making communities more attractive places to live and destinations to visit—the results of which include increased population retention, employment, and tourism growth.

Arts funding is economic development, and an investment by West Virginia in its artists is an investment in West Virginia’s future