Whenever I know I am going to be “in the neighbourhood” (on a media trip to a specific destination) I always look for grassroots secondary stories that might fit my style and my interests. I figure if I have come “all this way” I might as well make the most of the opportunity. As it often turns out, I discover some wonderful destinations-within-the-destination.
This happened recently when I was on assignment in Houma, Louisiana; and of course my entry point was New Orleans. So to spend two extra nights in the Big Easy was, as I discovered, time well spent because I discovered the exquisite Ogden Museum of Southern Art. This secondary story became “The Ogden Museum of Southern Art: The Resilience of Culture in the American South.”
The reason this story “worked” so well for me is, primarily that this wonderful museum is in an artistic sense very integrated into and representative of The South. But even more importantly, the Ogden is directly involved with the rebuilding of New Orleans; it is a social institution that, along with many others, is at “the heart of the matter.”
The comprehensive nature of the arts institution
My particular interest in terms of focused travel stories is the arts, or what is generally referred to now as the cultural industries. The latter is a rather comprehensive term that has entered the travel and tourism lexicon because increasingly communities are discovering how their many cultural industries (museums; art galleries; national or state heritage sites; national monuments and landmarks; ethnic communities and neighborhoods; festivals and fairs; theatre; music; and even horticultural venues not only add directly to a community’s coffers, but may also be the prime reason people visit the destination.
What you may not know about cultural tourism
I invite you to examine the following stats. (Please note that the stats below come from a number of sources.)
• According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, cultural industries worldwide are estimated to account for 7 percent of the world’s gross domestic product.
• In Canada, a study in our Atlantic coast island province of Newfoundland and Labrador, estimates that for every dollar spent in tourism marketing, there is a return of $10 generated by new tourism expenditures.
• In China, the rise of what is known as “cultural industries” is seen as the next step along a path from a developing nation to a world power.
• A growing number of travelers rank the arts, heritage, and other cultural attractions as one of the top five reasons they visit a destination.
• Tourism authorities now spend considerable time and money defining who these “cultural tourists” are.
• In the United States, almost 120 million adult Americans indicate that they included at least one arts-oriented attraction in their travel plans in recent years. One quarter of these same travelers take three or more trips a year.
• Cultural travellers are not passive tourists; they know what they want. And what they want is a meaningful travel experience and an enriching experience.
• In the United States travelers are increasingly choosing more rural and out-of-the-way destinations that focus in part on cultural, historic, and natural resources.
• The statistic that surprised me the most, however, was that it is the 18-34 demographic that is most represented in cultural tourism. (They also tend to be wealthier, more educated, and more technologically savvy.) I expected the principal target group to be the 50+ crowd in our aging society, maybe because that’s where I currently reside.
In the United States the top destinations for cultural tourism according to the last report I saw are:
1. California 2. Texas 3. New York 4. Florida 5. Pennsylvania 6. Virginia 7. Illinois 8. Tennessee 9. North Carolina 10. Georgia
In my discussion with David Houston, Curator of the Ogden (but also art educator, historian, cultural anthropologist, sociologist, philosopher, arts activist, and social conscience), David emphasized that the Ogden and the cultural industries in general are all about sustainability, and that following Katrina he and his staff were determined to fulfill their responsibilities to the community by continuing to make the Ogden a community center, a place of normality, and a place of refuge.
It’s not just about paintings hanging on a wall.
The literary cultural industry
And I must not forget the literary travel scene. For a long time travellers have been following literary pilgrimage routes, such as the Jane Austen “route” or the Arthurian Legends route. And novelists often express the truth better than anyone else.
British author Ian McEwan, best known for his Booker Award-winning Atonement and novels such as Amsterdam, could well be credited with marketing finesse through his prose; attracting travellers to the destinations he writes about. In his novel Saturday, he gives a brilliant and profound sense of the city of London, through the eyes of his protagonist. This is the kind of novel that makes me want to rush back to that great city. Through his characters he also articulates universal themes and issues… in the global village.
In Saturday, Henry, a neurosurgeon is coming to a new full awareness of what he does when he enters the brains of his patients. He has gone to hear his son’s band make a new recording.
“No longer tired, Henry comes away from the wall where he has been leaning, and walks into the middle of the dark auditorium, towards the great engine of sound. He lets it engulf him. There are these rare moments when musicians together touch something sweeter than they’ve ever found before in rehearsals or performance, beyond the merely collaborative or technically proficient, when their expression becomes as easy and graceful as friendship or love. This is when they give us a glimpse of what might be, of our best selves, and of an impossible world in which you can give everything you have to others, but lose nothing of yourself. Out in the real world there exist detailed plans, visionary projects for peaceable realms, all conflicts resolved, happiness for everyone, for ever — mirages for which people are prepared to die and kill. Christ’s kingdom on earth, the workers’ paradise, the ideal Islamic state. But only in music, and only on rare occasions, does the curtain actually lift on this dream of community, and it’s tantalisingly conjured, before fading away with the last notes.”
To read and listen to “The Ogden Museum of Southern Art: The Resilience of Culture in the American South,” click here.