Tourism and art environments were focus for Leadership Snohomish County student tours

  • <b>By M.L. Dehm SCBJ Freelance Writer</b>
  • Monday, April 6, 2009 4:55pm

March was a time to concentrate on tourism and the arts for members of the Leadership Snohomish County class as they continued their exploration of local realms of county living.

Not only did they tour local tourism and art venues and hear some amazing speakers, they also got some hands-on art experience.

Leadership Snohomish County is designed to offer future leaders a chance to learn more about the region and the relationships between businesses, government and individuals that create local communities.

The first destination for the day was the Edmonds Center for the Arts, an intimate state-of-the-art theatre where revenue has exceeded projections during its first two years of operation.

Executive director Joseph Mclalwain said that ticket sales continued to climb in the first months of 2009 despite the sagging economy.

He noted the success of the theatre also is great news for surrounding businesses that benefit from increased traffic on event days. Only about 30 percent of ticket sales are generated in the Edmonds vicinity, he said, showing that the performing arts center attracts a large number of visitors from outside the area.

“About 45,000 people came down here in our very first year of operation,” Mclalwain said. “Many of those people visited the local shops and enjoyed the restaurants.”

These visitor numbers are crucial for the overall health of the region. According to Amy Spain, executive director for Snohomish County Tourism, tourism often gets disregarded when leaders talk about economic impact. Yet tourism is ranked fourth among Washington’s largest industries.

Spain presented the class with compelling figures to prove tourism’s importance, not only on a national and state level but also county-wide. Snohomish County’s tourism office is the least funded tourism organization in Washington yet in 2007 Snohomish County had the highest hotel occupancy of any county in the state, even King County.

“Hotels are often thought of as the biggest recipient of visitor spending but that is not the case,” Spain said. “Transportation and fuel, restaurants, retail and attractions all receive a bigger percentage of that visitor dollar.”

She asked the class to consider their own vacation-related spending. Gas tanks must be filled, retail items purchased, entertainment paid for. Purchases such as these helped to make up the $881.7 million that visitors spent in Snohomish County during 2007 alone.

The class also offered their own presentations about the importance of tourism and the cultural arts to the region. Of particular interest was the comparison of local Arts Commissions. The students found that each community within Snohomish County offered a different organization and a different level of support to the Arts.

Student Keith Kubie of Boeing found the Lynnwood Arts Commission to be an active and enthusiastic group, eager to advocate for the visual, performing and literary arts. However, fellow student Vikki Strand of BECU found two other cities’ arts commissions to be less well organized and decidedly under-funded.

Later that morning, the class heard a presentation from Judy Tuohy, executive director of the Arts Council of Snohomish County. They then drove to the Lynnwood Convention Center where general manager Kelvin Moore offered them a comprehensive tour of that facility.

Students enjoyed an art break in the afternoon. The class visited Edmond’s Glazed and Amazed pottery studio. Here they were able to hand-paint some pottery as reminder of how business and the arts are inter-related.

The session closed with a talk from Leadership Snohomish County executive director Sarri Gilman. She later summed up the over-all purpose of this month’s program.

“Hopefully the class emerges understanding that as community stewards, it may be important for them to preserve historic buildings, dedicate space for art, or sponsor the arts in some way to ensure that it can thrive,” Gilman said. “It takes tremendous creativity and visionary leadership to plan a community that attracts tourists.”

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