Scottsdale is a remarkable city: gifted with natural beauty, fabulous amenities, a humming economy and a strong reputation as a luxury destination. Scottsdale is also a manageable city – embedded in a large metro area, providing amenities and opportunities.
It is remarkable that from the beginning culture has played a significant role in Scottsdale’s short history. In the 70s and 80s, Scottsdale led the way in creative endeavors, with patrons flocking from across the Southwest to experience “cutting edge” art. Much has changed since those days, and our cultural identity became tamped down, as other Valley communities embraced creative placemaking as an opportunity to reshape their civic life. From Peoria to Mesa, cities invested in new cultural infrastructure, while Scottsdale was content.
Of late, Scottsdale has reimagined culture in our community, and what role it plays for quality of life, economic development and tourism. Investing in culture is at the core of successful communities across our nation. Take Nashville or Austin – cities which have built a thriving economy by investing in cultural infrastructure and an ecosystem of creativity.
In Scottsdale, results of such investment are exemplified by Scottsdale Arts’ Canal Convergence: a 10-day, free art festival along the Scottsdale Waterfront. Canal Convergence is a gift to the community – funded by visitor generated bed-tax dollars and sponsorships. It was envisioned as a destination event during our shoulder season, that time between the quiet summer months and the bustling winter and spring. The November event transforms the tranquil Waterfront into a showcase for large-scale temporary art, lighting up the night sky. The title of the 2023 event, The Power of Play, reflected that most works are interactive and controlled by audience engagement. Canal Convergence attracted 180,000 visitors, many of them families.
Kids were mesmerized by the glowing installations, lighting up structures through swing sets, ‘painting’ abstractions with cell smart phones or through body movements on huge three-dimensional cubes suspended over the canal. Patrons explored augmented reality murals or ‘build-your-own’ mythical deep-sea aquariums. An annual highlight is a fire show – gleaming orbs suspended in the Canal, spewing flames choreographed to cool tunes. In all, 100 workshops, talks, tours, films, bands and dances provided deeper engagement.
Scottsdale Arts, Arizona’s largest arts umbrella, can execute such a big event because our passionate staff collaborate. Canal Convergence is possible because businesses and residents participate, SRP allows Scottsdale Arts to work in and above the canals, the city’s Tourism Development Commission recommends significant funding from bed-tax revenue, and the city supports the event with resources and public safety measures.
Remarkably, Canal Convergence also draws an exceptionally diverse crowd: every ethnicity and socio-economic strata is represented in this joyful, creative discovery of shared experiences under a desert sky. Canal Convergence embodies what it means to build community and underscores the importance of supporting diversity in Scottsdale.
Experience Scottsdale plays a critical role in leveraging Canal Convergence and many other cultural events into a marketing strategy to attract culture-curious travelers. While sun and golf may be the first draw – the arts keep visitors entertained and returning. Geolocation data shows that more than one-third of visitors that stay 6+ days also visit Scottsdale’s cultural attractions. Canal Convergence is always a strong week for Scottsdale-area hotels and resorts. When compared to Scottsdale/Paradise Valley’s overall performance for November 2023, hotels and resorts experienced higher occupancy (+15%), rate (+6%) and revenue (+22%) during the week.
The arts and culture sector of our community provides a significant return on investment: we employ thousands of people and generate tax revenue. When arts events thrive, so do restaurants, hotels, and businesses. Cities that attract creatives are by far more successful in building a modern workforce. Cities that invest in the arts build a stronger sense of community, civic life, and sense of belonging. An upcoming city-wide cultural study will provide a deeper insight into the value the culture sector provides.
Scottsdale is a remarkable place to call home. It is well managed, successful, and beautiful. Because of the passionate work of the culture sector, Scottsdale is also once again becoming a leading arts destination.
Reader reactions, pro or con, are welcomed at AzOpinions@iniusa.org.