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Big ideas like an arts venue create controversy, new thinking

By Kim Likins (HHI Town Council Representative / Community Services Chairperson) and Cindy Creamer (Venue Committee Chairperson)

Big ideas tend to generate controversy. When something beyond the realm of conventional thinking is envisioned, it is normal for stakeholders to emerge who are seekers, doubters, believers or knowers.

Each of these groups plays a vital role in bringing a big idea to reality — or proving its infeasibility.

Hilton Head Island is a perfect example of a big-idea concept. In 1956, Charles Fraser believed it was possible to transform a sparsely populated sea island into a world-class resort. Today, we live that dream. We also know, however, that it did not come to fruition without a significant degree of trepidation.

By 1983, when the Town of Hilton Head Island incorporated, the island had seen population growth of 600 percent and an increase in annual visitors to more than half a million. The continued steady growth of both residents and tourists made it apparent in the 1990s that the island needed a second highway. Once again Hilton Head became the center of a controversial big idea: the Cross Island Parkway.

The parkway adventure began with great resistance and yet today we could not imagine island life without it. Indeed, a large majority of parkway users are residents who enjoy the convenience and beauty of South Carolina’s first sustainable highway.

We now find ourselves at the forefront of another big idea. Recently Town Council embraced an initiative to further develop the island's assets by seeking ways to maximize our rich and diverse arts, cultural, historical and entertainment resources.

Research completed by the town-appointed, citizen-led Arts & Cultural Strategic Planning Committee revealed that the 2014 economic impact of Hilton Head's arts and cultural organizations was — conservatively — more than $21 million in expenditures.

The findings, based on an Americans for the Arts economic prosperity input-output model, indicated the spending included $13 million in direct household income, a $1.8 million contribution to local and state government revenues, and 600 full-time equivalent jobs.

The study, the most comprehensive of its kind ever conducted, also highlighted the significance that arts and culture play in quality of life for residents, as well as how such offerings embody the heart and spirit of a community.

Venue concerns have long challenged many of the nearly 70 for-profit and non-profit businesses and organizations that support, serve and operate island arts and cultural programs. As a result, Town Council has considered that our community may be missing opportunities to take full advantage of these assets while also underutilizing their economic potential.

In an effort to think big, Council created the town's Venue Committee to investigate if new and innovative venue possibilities could help maximize the formidable arts and cultural assets currently available in our community and those that are poised to develop in years to come.

This group of citizen-volunteers represents our diverse community and brings together some of the island’s finest financial, analytical, historical and creative thinkers.

The committee will also be supported by a group of research professionals who will provide detailed data investigations and unbiased evaluations of the information needed to help form final recommendations.

As we begin to explore venue possibilities, we'll seek to answer questions such as: Do we need new or different arts and cultural venues? Is it possible to build and sustain them? If so, how would they function? What would they look like? And where would they be located?

We need stakeholders who are seekers, doubters, believers, and knowers to step forward and play an active part in the process, which will conclude with recommendations in December.

As acclaimed naturalist Todd Ballantine reminded us in his lessons learned from building the Cross Island Parkway, big ideas require new thinking, for we are thinking for future generations.

Kim Likins is a Hilton Head Island Town Council member who chairs its Community Services Committee. Cindy Creamer is a Realtor who chairs the town's Venue Committee.

This op-ed appeared in the Island Packet on May 27, 2016

Learn more about the Town's Venue Committee