Plan sought for creative districts

The General Affairs Committee heard testimony Jan. 27 on a potential change to the Nebraska Art Council’s duties.

Sen. Megan Hunt
Sen. Megan Hunt

LB943, introduced by Omaha Sen. Megan Hunt, would require the council to devise a plan for creative districts throughout the state. The newly formed districts would be certified by the council and distinguished by geography, artistic or cultural activities or facilities, promotion and preservation of artistic or cultural sites, educational uses of artistic or cultural activities or sites and unique or niche areas, activities, events, facilities or sites.

The Legislature would have to approve any plan developed by the council.

The bill also would allow the council to create a competitive grant program available to a certified cultural district through the Nebraska Arts and Humanities Cash Fund. Money for the grants, Hunt said, would be generated by a separate bill she introduced this session that would authorize a specialty license plate promoting the arts.

“We found that creative districts can have a significant economic impact,” Hunt said. “A creative district is an urban area intended to create a critical mass of places of cultural consumption, including art galleries, theaters, music venues and public squares.”

Hunt said such districts already exist but that currently there is no way to encourage, maintain or incentivize them. She added that Nebraska is one of two states without formally recognized creative districts.

Suzanne Wise, executive director of the Nebraska Arts Council, spoke in favor of LB943. She said Montana recently adopted creative districts to enhance economic development.

“Having the guideposts of a creative arts district, helps [visitors] think, ‘Oh, maybe there’s a not-for-profit, like an art center,” Wise said.

Also testifying in support was Doug Zbylut, executive director of Nebraskans for the Arts. He said creative districts establish a distinct sense of place by concentrating museums, performance venues and creative spaces. Such projects are underway in Omaha, McCook, Ashland and Lincoln, he said.

“States are committing tools and resources to develop these areas of creativity to help with community vitality and attract and retain employees and businesses,” Zyblut said.

Brad Mellema, executive director of the Grand Island/Hall County Convention and Visitors Bureau, also testified in support. He said a creative district designation would give a city “permission to be artistic” and that Grand Island would apply for a designation if the bill passed.

No one testified against LB943 and the committee took no immediate action on it.

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