Only three qualities about Jackson Hole are truly unique: our landscape, our flora and fauna, and our character. And the greatest threat to our character is commodification; i.e., that we become like other communities.
How do we keep that from happening? How do we keep Jackson Hole’s character distinctive? One key is to encourage and support our arts community.
By definition, the arts are creative and dynamic, distinctive and vibrant. Since Thomas Moran and others first captured the Tetons in the 19th century, artists and the broader arts community have played a critical role in shaping Jackson Hole’s character. They also make a significant contribution to our economy. As a result, today Jackson Hole is blessed with a rich and vibrant arts culture, ranging from world-class facilities and successful arts-based businesses to the multitudes who create, teach, learn, and perform art on a daily basis. Then consider the tens of thousands of residents and visitors who enjoy performances, collect art, and otherwise find their lives enriched by the community’s many artistic facets, and it’s clear how deeply entwined and integral the arts are to Jackson Hole.
Unfortunately, as Jackson Hole becomes more popular, it’s becoming harder for the local arts community to continue to thrive. In particular, rising rents – whether for housing, studios, or other spaces – are making it increasingly difficult for artists and arts organizations. This is particularly true for smaller organizations and artists early in their endeavors, who contribute so much vitality to the local arts scene. Yet should Jackson Hole’s arts community start to wane, so too will a creative spark that has helped animate the valley for so long.
What can local government do? Three things immediately suggest themselves.
First, acknowledge how important the arts are to Jackson Hole, and the challenges the arts community faces. Government also needs to acknowledge how local artists and arts organizations complement and enrich the region’s schools and educational offerings.
Second, work with the arts community to explore ways to keep it healthy and vibrant.
Third, explore appointing a formal task force to investigate developing an arts district, as well as the tools other cities have used to support their arts communities. What can we learn from others?
A key role for any government is taking steps today that help set the stage for a vibrant future. As the world becomes more homogenized, Jackson Hole’s character and economy will suffer unless we can figure out ways to stay vibrant and dynamic. The arts have been key to the valley’s distinctiveness for over a century, and will remain so well into the future.