Letter to the Pilot

Thursday, May 30, 2002

The arts and Iowa's future


I understand that the Des Moines Register "Editorial Board" wrote a piece outlining the horrible fiscal situation in which Iowa finds itself and pointing out the choices that led to the current situation. I quote, "There comes a time when a state needs to pay honest,

careful attention to the balance between income and expenses. No more half-measures. Time for fundamental decisions." I agree. Iowans are at a crossroads in the development of our state, and the choices we make will have a lasting impact.

The editorial goes on to suggest areas for re-consideration, among them the necessity of maintaining a Department of Cultural Affairs. I am continually amazed when discussion of our economic future and the bleak outlook suddenly turns to the

elimination of precisely those elements of life that make for a high quality of life. For example, if Iowa wants to attract more jobs in the higher end of the pay scale, we will need to attract companies who hire well-educated people, people who have income to spend on quality of life activities and who expect that they and their children will have many choices for enriching their lives through the arts, fine dining, museums and other cultural opportunities. Iowa must not be short-sighted on this point. Though we are famous for our practicality, Iowans sometimes err on the side of too much efficiency and lose sight of the long-term benefits of spending on things like historic preservation, arts in education, and development of cultural institutions. This short-sightedness has put us where we are now.

Please don't advocate the elimination of the Department of Cultural Affairs if you really want to make Iowa the greatest place to live and work and raise a family. If we want young

people to stay here, if we want companies to locate here, we have to give them more than tax incentives and serene images of farms and fields. We have to give them long-term economic viability and a

quality of life that is rich,

complex and offers a multitude of avenues for personal

expression. Some cities have actually used a revitalized arts and dining district to attract new companies and higher paid workers to relocate, thus

causing housing values to increase, the tax base to rise, and contributing to an improved economic situation for all residents.

When you consider where our brightest young people say they want to go when they finish school, many will say Chicago, Minneapolis and even New York City. Why? Because they believe they can make a life there, and they want to be a part of a vigorous and

flourishing economic and

cultural community. We can have that here. We can. The question is, do we believe we can?

With faith in the future of our state,

Bethany Larson

Storm Lake