COLUMBIA — A new arts program will encourage area businesses to think locally when it comes time to fill an empty wall or space.
The Renaissance Club in Columbia will encourage businesses to purchase one piece of art every year from a local artist or gallery.
“We need to make sure the artists we have ... can make a living,” said Lorah Steiner, director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Steiner said the program targets visual arts because of its ability to attract tourists and encourage economic growth.
“Arts tends to be a cornerstone of development,” she said.
The program was inspired by a joint initiative between the Chamber of Commerce and the Convention and Visitors Bureau. The two groups have been purchasing a new work of art each year to fill the Walton Building, 300 S. Providence Road.
As far as Steiner knows, this is the first initiative of its kind in the country.
Columbia already has an Art Pledge program, with about 60 members, to encourage people to purchase local art. Steiner said the more she thought about the program, the more she became convinced it needed to be expanded to the corporate community.
“We see this as an investment,” Steiner said. “If the arts thrive in Columbia, it’s going to increase both tourism and positive development.”
Steiner said she hopes the Renaissance Club will augment the “outstanding” work being done by the Office of Cultural Affairs and the Art League. The Convention and Visitors Bureau will operate the program for now, but Steiner hopes an arts group will take over eventually.
Steiner said businesses that have original art are perceived as having a “creative atmosphere.”
Steiner’s own perspective on art changed when the Convention and Visitors Bureau started looking at niche markets for tourism. Steiner said she found “cities with strong arts components — both visual and performing” tend to have strong tourism.
“The arts are a catalytic converter,” Steiner said. “When arts go in, economic benefit comes out.”
Artist Chris Teeter, manager of Orr Street Studios, said the club sounded like a positive step for Columbia’s art community.
“In order to have a strong arts community, you need artists and an educated buying community,” Teeter said. “This is an excellent way to make Columbia a community with an artistic identity.”
Steiner said that during October, the Convention and Visitors Bureau would work to educate artists and galleries on how the program works. They’ll meet with gallery owners and distribute brochures and cards to document purchases. Companies would fill out cards to record the date of purchase, type of purchase, gallery name and confirmation code.
Steiner hopes to launch the program in November.
Jennifer Perlow of Perlow-Stevens Gallery said she is excited about the program.
“I think it’s crucial to the growth of the arts community that the CVB is behind us,” Perlow said. “I certainly hope that it encourages people to buy art, I think that is the overwhelming impetus of this movement. Instead of just putting something up ... support your local arts community.”
Membership in the Renaissance Club will provide benefits like exclusive receptions in conjunction with Artrageous Fridays, Art in the Park and Fall Festival of the Arts. Members will also be invited to seminars on art evaluation, investment and painting styles.
“Once you get involved in buying art, your whole perspective changes,” Steiner said. “People who didn’t have any interest will find themselves very interested in art.”
Steiner said the program has philosophical appeals, too.
“The greatest legacy of any culture tends to be its art,” Steiner said.