Weber County leaders aim for growth, development by fostering culture, arts

Monday , January 08, 2018 - 5:15 AM

TIM VANDENACK, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — Economic development isn’t just about tax incentives, the local business climate and availability of industrial space.

No doubt those are key.

But artistic, cultural and creative endeavors also draw business and people.

“When you have that type of thing in your community, they want to work here, they want to play here, they want to live here,” said Kassi Bybee, general manager of Peery’s Egyptian Theater, the county-owned arts venue in downtown Ogden.

With that in mind, Weber County commissioners have been pushing for more county involvement in cultural and artistic ventures, aiming to foster a vibe that makes Weber County a happening place to be. Other entities and boosters here aim to do the same thing — the city of Ogden, Historic 25th Street entrepreneurs and others.

It’s relatively new terrain for county government, though, at least to the degree commissioners seem to be pursuing their efforts.

“I’m excited,” Commissioner James Ebert  said last Tuesday on creation of a new volunteer board tasked with promoting theatrical productions at Peery’s. “It is part of an overarching cultural development, whether it’s art or theater or music or architecture or whatever type of creativity.”

RELATED: Art Spotlight: What's your favorite part of Ogden's art scene?

Promoting culture and the arts makes Ogden and Weber County a more vibrant place for those already here, Ebert maintains. But it goes further — spurring economic development, making Weber County a destination for visitors and even new business, the underlying aim of the county efforts.

“We have watched communities be built, or rebuilt, by these community creative (initiatives),” Ebert said. And the aim isn’t to foster growth in just traditional arts, but to encourage growth of other sorts of creativity here as well — in architecture, engineering and more.

Among the recent county efforts:

  • Formal creation by commissioners at their Jan. 2 meeting of the Ogden Musical Theater Advisory Board to promote Ogden Musical Theater productions at Peery, launched just last year.
  • Creation last December of the Weber County Creative Alliance, another volunteer group tasked with promoting arts, cultural organizations and artistic endeavors.
  • Promotion last year of TEDx Ogden, a series of talks on a broad range of topics affiliated with the non-profit TED foundation, and planned involvement in another TEDx series here in June.

“It’s taking what we have and making it sparkle just a bit so people want to come see what’s going on,” said Jennifer Graham. She’s assistant director of the Weber County Culture, Parks and Recreation Department and will help the Weber County Creative Alliance.

RELATED: First TEDxOgden event aims inspire the community

Scott Patria, a creative alliance board member and executive director of Ogden First, or O1 Arts, a non-profit organization that promotes arts, said there’s a growing segment of the population, “cultural creatives,” people who care about art and culture. The county focus on promoting arts to help drive economic development is spot on.

“This is clearly where the population is headed at this current time,” Patria said.

‘A GOOD QUALITY OF LIFE’

More traditional economic development efforts are spearheaded through the Weber Economic Development Partnership, among other entities. The county organization maintains an inventory of available commercial and industrial space and can help entrepreneurs understand the available tax incentives meant to spur business growth, among other things.

At the same time, Weber County has plenty to offer business operators thinking of relocating or expanding — access to modes of transportation, an existing industrial base that can supply others. But sometimes that’s not enough.

“They want to make sure there’s a good quality of life,” Ebert said. That’s where the new county focus comes in.

Bybee said the Ogden Musical Theater Advisory Board will serve to reach out to the community to promote the theatrical productions at Peery.

Last summer for the first time in several years, the Peery staged a musical production, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” drawing large audiences. A production of “Annie Get Your Gun” is slated for this coming summer and Bybee said she hopes for two musical productions per year starting in 2019.

“Our purpose really is to bring back live musical theater to Peery’s Egyptian Theater,” Bybee said, tapping Weber State University students and other local talent. “We want it to be very professional. We feel there’s a lot of talent.”

Though still in search of a full slate of board members, the Weber County Creative Alliance aims to help smaller entities with applications for recreation, arts, museums and parks, or RAMP, funds, generated by a local sales tax. Alliance board members also plan to travel Weber County, taking inventory of existing arts and cultural initiatives and identifying potential areas where they can partner and offer help.

“We want to foster an environment where creativity thrives,” Patria said. 

Contact reporter Tim Vandenack at tvandenack@standard.net, follow him on Twitter at @timvandenack or like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/timvandenackreporter.

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