Arts in Suffolk are good for business

Published 11:14 pm Friday, November 1, 2019

By Linda Bunch

While the arts provide us with enjoyable experiences and educational opportunities, the arts are also good for business. Cities across the region and the country are realizing the value of the arts in revitalization. Arts districts can create excitement and bring people to help breathe new life into downtowns.

Edi Rama, a painter, became mayor of Tirana, Albania. There he instilled pride in his citizens by transforming public spaces with colorful designs. In his TED talk ( “Take Back Your City with Paint,” he outlines how by simply adding color to buildings, cleaning up a park and painting the park benches created an atmosphere of safety and community. Suddenly there were people walking around, visiting shops, eating lunch in the park on sunny days — simply by adding color to the downtown.

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The recent SPARC Fest on South Main Street and the painted window panels in the old Norfolk & Western Train Station there show how transformational adding color and art can be. SPARC Fest brought people into a section of downtown many rarely or never have been. I dare to say the sales in the couple shops there far exceeded their typical Saturday. This creative placemaking marks the beginning of what can become an arts and cultural district for our downtown.

The art world long ago learned to operate on a shoestring, and while we would like to see what it is like to do otherwise, that’s probably not going to happen. I am pleased that the arts do get support in Suffolk. Local businesses purchase program advertising, donate sponsorships and awards and provide in-kind services. The Suffolk Fine Arts Commission, Suffolk Education Foundation and the City of Suffolk provide much needed grants and arts funding, and the Virginia Commission for the Arts grants bring state and national (National Endowment for the Arts) funding to our area. There are many business and family foundations, along with the Suffolk Foundation and Obici Healthcare Foundation that make funding available. We are fortunate to have many local businesses and individuals that are very generous. We also have the support of the members of our arts and cultural organizations both through donations and, just as valuable, their time. We thank them and hope they will continue to generously support the arts.

Through this exploration, I was reminded that the arts are all around us. Whether it is the line of our favorite automobile that inspires us or the dimensions and style of a home. Maybe it is the fashions that we wear from our shoes to neckties, jewelry, furnishings, an unusually well-designed advertisement — these were all created and influenced by an artist.

I hope you will make time to enjoy the arts in Suffolk, whether in a formal setting or just walking down the street. I would also challenge us, as a community, to abandon the “that’s the way we’ve always done it” mentality and think — what would an artist do?

Linda G. Bunch was raised in Chuckatuck and is executive director of the Suffolk Art League. Contact her at