Elorza pitches citywide arts festival for Providence

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Democratic mayoral candidate Jorge Elorza said Thursday he wants Providence to host a week-long arts and cultural festival modeled after the popular South by Southwest event in Austin, Texas.

Elorza pitched his plan a morning press conference at The Avenue Concept, an artist space on Lockwood Street. He said the goal would be to hold the first event in the fall of 2016 and that city funds would be used for part of the startup costs, but indicated the goal was to secure private funding. He said he believes the events would need about $50,000 in “seed money.”

“The economic impact of such a festival is immediate and significant, and also has ripple effects that continue to benefit the city,” Elorza said. “The kind of profile that comes with hosting an event of this type impacts the city all year round by strengthening its brand identity.”

Elorza is running the Sept. 9 primary against City Council President Michael Solomon and Chris Young. The winner will take on independent Vincent A. “Buddy” Cianci Jr. and Republican Daniel Harrop in the general election. Incumbent Mayor Angel Taveras is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor.

Providence hosts a variety of smaller arts and culture festivals across the city each year, but Elorza said he believes a large-scale event would allow Providence to market itself to the world. If elected, he said would the city would again focus on being the “creative capital,” a branding tag that the city created under former Mayor David Cicilline.

Elorza said he considers the South by Southwest event a case study for the impact major festivals can have on a city. That event drew about 155,000 to the Austin area in 2013, generating about $218 million in direct and indirection economic impact for the city, according to New York-based Greyhill Advisors.

“Over many conversations with the city’s creative community, a common theme emerged: that we have all the pieces necessary to be a first-rate destination, but we haven’t successfully put those pieces together,” Elorza said. “As mayor, I will take a leadership role in positioning the important role arts and cultural organizations play in our city’s economic development by advocating for increased support with funders and thought leaders.

Throughout his campaign, Elorza has made a concerted effort to target tech-savvy millennials who live in Providence. He’s also pledged to create a citywide broadband network as way to spur innovation and quality of life in the city.

Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Twitter: @danmcgowan

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