Tuesday, December 6
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Mary Helmer Wirth
Main Street Alabama


Lake City is a rural agricultural community in the heart of South Carolina, far removed from major traffic routes and was historically reliant economically on the now-defunct tobacco industry. However, through an incremental approach to the infusion of visual art, public art, arts programming, and art festivals, Lake City has experienced a remarkable downtown revitalization. Lake City’s premier event, ArtFields, draws more than 400 artists and thousands of installations from 14 southeastern states, and attracts 30,000-40,000 visitors each year. Moreover, the impact of the arts has affected downtown merchants as well as the physical infrastructure of downtown’s buildings, parks, and streetscapes. This transformation garnered USA Today’s designation, “America’s #1 Small Town Cultural Scene,” in 2019. 

Randy Wilson, President of Community Design Solutions, served as Project Architect for Lake City during much of this transformation. He will share the behind-the-scenes story of Lake City’s transformation complete with all the mistakes they made along the way. The chief takeaway, however, is that the Lake City transformation was an incremental one–in keeping with one of Main Street’s core principles—and by focusing on catalytic projects, the relative impact of the arts multiplied over time. Moreover, the presence of the arts not only affects Lake City’s cultural scene, but also her physical realm, her economic development strategy, and most importantly, the engagement of every aspect of her citizenry. As a result of this incremental approach in a rural setting, the Lake City story can be replicated in other rural communities that might be looking for new and non-traditional economic development engines.

  •  Robust public art programs are not limited to large metropolitan areas; smaller rural communities can experience their benefits as well.
  • There is a tangible connection between the presence of the arts and economic development.
  • An arts-driven economic development strategy must impact the physical realm and all arts/design-related projects must be catalytic and incremental in nature.