Montgomery’s arts organizations play a key role in our city’s success and quality of life. With an economic impact well into the tens of millions of dollars, the arts are uniquely intertwined in our development, vibrancy and future growth.
Every year, thousands of people in Montgomery gather on the lush, green lawn outside the Alabama Shakespeare Festival to enjoy a night of “Broadway Under the Stars.” The Montgomery Symphony Orchestra’s annual outdoor concert is equally as spectacular as the venue itself, the picturesque Blount Cultural Park. Adjacent to the concert stage is the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, another jewel in Montgomery’s artistic crown.
The experience is uniquely Montgomery, and for those in attendance, it’s a reminder of the abundance and accessibility of arts and culture in our city. “For a city our size and really any size, the depth and diversity of our arts organizations is just remarkable,” said Ashley Ledbetter, the Executive Director of the Montgomery Area Business Council for the Arts (MABCA). “Our 30 plus organizations encompass all kinds of performing, visual and literary arts. There is truly something for everyone,” she said, mentioning newer groups like 21 Dreams: Arts and Culture in addition to the long-standing Alabama Writers Forum, which began in the 1950s.
MABCA was the first affiliate of the National Business Committee for the Arts. The late Wynton M. “Red” Blount, a Montgomery businessman and arts philanthropist, brought the program to his hometown after receiving a National Business in the Arts Award. Blount formed the group in 1979 with help from Bobby Weil Sr. and the late Frank Plummer. Today, it continues to develop strategic alliances within the art and business communities. “The reason businesses support the arts is simple — it enhances our city’s quality of life. Beyond that, it builds bridges within our community. It adds vibrancy and culture. It improves educational experiences, and it leads to a more creative and engaged workforce,” said Ledbetter.
THE ARTS MEAN BUSINESS
Community leaders understand the starring role that arts play in our community, frequently mentioning the arts alongside topics like job creation, attracting new business, downtown revitalization and employment. And when it comes to direct economic impact, the most recent studies estimate it well beyond the $50 million mark for the tri-county area. Combine that with its ability to help recruit new companies, and its value climbs even higher. “The strength of the arts in a community goes a long way to heighten the perception of a particular place, and it really makes Montgomery desirable,” said Eve Loeb, the longtime director of development for the Alabama Shakespeare Festival.
With 100,000-square-foot theater, ASF is the largest and only fully professional theater in Alabama and one of the largest Shakespeare festivals in the world. The facility is often a must-see stop for economic recruitment visits and tourists alike. City leaders credit ASF, along with MMFA, for helping seal Hyundai’s decision to bring its facility to the capital city. “Business and the arts have a very symbiotic relationship,” Loeb added. “People who come to Montgomery are wowed by the level of art we have here.”
CELEBRATING CORPORATE ALLIANCES
“The arts help stitch and bind the community together. No other sector is able to have such an impact on the fabric of our city,” said John Foshee of Foshee Architecture LLC. “We feel it’s our role to invest in the arts for future generations.” Foshee, who serves on the board of directors of MABCA, was the 2017 winner of a Business in the Arts Award for his company’s ardent support of the arts. Each year, the organization honors small, medium and large businesses, as well as individuals and educational groups, who carry on their founding members’ philanthropic legacy of contributing to the arts. Foshee Architecture won the small business category while Alabama Power won the large business award.
Leslie Sanders, Vice President of the Southern Division of Alabama Power, said, “Whether it’s supporting children learning to play an instrument or supporting our Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Alabama Power views the arts as a direct investment to better the places in which we live.”
As the MABCA prepares for its 32nd presentation of the awards this year, Ledbetter describes the event as a time to remember what makes our community special. “This year, and every year, we have so much to be proud of,” she said. “Montgomery had some great visionaries in the arts and philanthropy towards arts. That foundation and longevity of the business community’s support sets us apart.”