Sep 30, 2013
by CATE O’HAGAN, Arts Central Executive Director
A merry band of collaborators began working on a new cultural tourism project called Cultural Byways over a year ago. The purpose of the Cultural Byways project is to pull together and disseminate a representative sampling of cultural activities in Warm Springs and Crook, Deschutes and Jefferson Counties so that locals and tourists alike can broaden their understanding of recreation in Central Oregon.
“When packaged this way, the rich cultural offerings of the region become a real value added proposition for tourism. Cultural tourists typically extend their stays and spend more on entertainment, dining and shopping,” says Alana Hughson,pPresident and CEO of the Central Oregon Visitors Association (COVA). The printed cultural map will roll out toward the end of October, in the middle of what is known in the tourism industry as the shoulder season, a relative lull between the high volume travel months of summer and winter when tourists may seek more indoor entertainment options.
Cultural Byways represents a first time collaboration between four regional Cultural Coalitions of the Oregon Cultural Trust. The Oregon Cultural Trust distributes funds to Oregon’s 45 tribal and county coalitions annually to support localized cultural assets. COVA and Scenic Byways joined the effort as regional strategic allies as did the regional chambers of commerce. The project is partially funded by a grant from the Oregon Arts Commission augmented by funds from each collaborative partner.
The first stage of Cultural Byways was to work with the regional tourism agency, COVA, to literally get Central Oregon’s cultural assets on the map via their new interactive website (visitcentraloregon.com/visiting/cultural landmarks). At a time when technology rules the information age, the Cultural Byways committee determined that people still like printed travel information. Using the Redmond Chamber as an example, whose brochure racks are packed on Friday and in serious need of restocking on Monday, the committee will print and distribute over 6,000 copies to tourism agencies, chambers and hotels in late October.
Cultural and heritage tourism has been widely accepted in the United States and Canada for decades as a valuable and even lucrative tourism emphasis. Arts Central, the project manager of both the Cultural Byways and of the Deschutes Cultural Coalition first convened statewide and local tourism professionals and managers in the regional arts and culture field to talk about cultural tourism in 2000.
In Central Oregon, arts and culture assets have traditionally been relegated to listings in the entertainment sections of tourism materials and websites and Arts Central sought to bring regional arts, culture and heritage assets to the forefront to stand shoulder to shoulder with the plethora of outdoor recreational opportunities. Over the years Arts Central made occasional forays into tourism offices to make the case for culture. Thirteen years later, but who’s counting, we are seeing a sincere effort locally to embrace cultural tourism. Sure, the moral of the story is never give up, but also understand that some ideas need to find their own time to emerge as a reality.
Both COVA and Visit Bend are to be applauded for their interest in cultural tourism and belief in the importance of the arts to tourists as well as locals. Voters in Bend will have an unprecedented opportunity this November to vote for a very modest increase in the transient room taxes (paid by tourists) to support not only public safety, but the arts. A small increase in the tax will result in a substantial fund for marketing the arts.
While Arts Central’s primary focus is cultivating creative minds through our Art Station, Artists in Schools residency programs and its mobile art studio that travels to underserved populations, the organization also plays a larger role as a Regional Arts and Culture Council. Around the state, arts organizations that play this role are often involved in arts policy and economic development and Arts Central is no different. We simply fly under the radar with these efforts knowing that the most important goal is to improve our regional communities through the arts, even if our work is behind the scenes.