Supporting a Community’s Cultural Capital

December 1st, 2017

Local government is essentially a business (a monopoly, but still). Like a business, we believe that success in creating and implementing in a vision in a small town or rural county requires capital investment. However, unlike most businesses, various kinds of capital exist in a community: natural, social, cultural, human, financial, political and built capital. There are programs for the obvious things like roads and security, but what isn’t as obvious are those programs designed to support cultural capital.

While working for the state, I served for a time as the Director of the Department of Heritage and Arts. One of the challenges we tried to tackle was providing services from our disparate divisions more comprehensively. Those efforts have continued, and the department it’s starting to refine an idea to create a “Creative Community” designation. The most immediate benefit for local governments is the potential for more funding an easier access to it, but there is a secondary benefit that might be even more significant. The current idea behind the requirements for the designation is that a community will be a good candidate if they have a holistic understanding of their cultural capital.

For example, a community like Tropic has developed a Heritage Center. Its a facility that serves as Town Hall, the local library, a natural history and pioneer museum, and a conference facility (for performances and other gatherings). Currently, the state provides resources that could support each of these functions individually, but in order to access that support, the Town would need to apply for different programs. Under the proposed designation, Tropic’s administrative requirements would decrease at the same time that they become more competitive for potential support. Everyone wins – especially the residents and visitors of the Town.

Cultural capital is easy to overlook until leaders recognize that community is as much a gathering of people as it is pipes and roads. Fortunately, there are capital resources to develop both for those that take the time to articulate their vision.