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What drives economic growth and personal prosperity in Southwest Florida?

If you ask most people, they’ll answer by discussing the new and dynamic businesses in our region. They will talk about the importance of tourism and the role of good schools and housing. While these are critical factors, and they’ve helped put Naples and our entire region on the national radar as a top place to live and work, there’s something else that is essential to our continued success, and that’s the arts.

If you think about it, the most successful communities across the country share a commitment to arts programs, including theater, music and visual arts. They invest in museums, concert halls and performance venues, giving residents and visitors alike a chance to be inspired and learn.

And this commitment is not an afterthought. Instead, it’s a recognition that strong neighborhoods and communities are nourished and elevated by the arts. To extend the social and economic successes of the past several years in Southwest Florida, we need to strengthen our commitment to establishing a vibrant arts culture.

Achieving this goal will take collaboration among stakeholders across our region, and the business community has a vital role to play.

Bank of America has committed to this mission with a comprehensive program supporting nonprofit arts institutions that ranges from our Museums on Us free admission weekends to our large art lending and financing business.

By supporting arts programs financially and through coordinated volunteer efforts, companies are not only doing the right thing for their friends and neighbors, they are laying the foundation for their own future success. That’s because the arts make a large and measurable impact on the U.S. economy, generating more than $750 billion in annual revenue, according to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). Furthermore, according to a BEA report released in March, Florida is responsible for a significant share of that revenue when compared to other states.

There is no shortage of programs and cultural undertakings to support.

Gulfshore Playhouse, a not-for-profit professional theater here in Naples, is an excellent example of an ambitious arts venture that we are proud to support. For years, the Playhouse has supported the city’s long-term growth, promoted cultural understanding and encouraged innovation. Its education initiatives offer in-school residencies, community partnerships, and afterschool programs to lower income families for little to no cost — and it reached 14,000 people in the last year alone.

After all of these contributions, Gulfshore Playhouse wants to do more, and they’ve begun building a new complex which is estimated to have an economic impact in the community of $12.2 million in total expenditures, will provide 432 FTE jobs and provide educational and creative programs to thousands more free of charge.

Bank of America recently announced that we will be the first corporate sponsor of this important effort, pledging $250,000 to help fund the project, as part of our long-term mission to empower the arts.

The value of the arts to local communities is hard to overstate and the reasons to support them are endless. Of course, artistic and cultural institutions are critical to building a strong quality of life, but they provide so much more, encouraging us to think differently and imagine more.

The arts also have an invaluable role in encouraging social progress, with studies showing that lower-income students engaged in arts education programs have better academic results, stronger college aspirations and higher levels of civic participation.

There has never been a better time for businesses to support their local arts programs. Only by creating and participating in a strong public-private collaboration across our community can we ensure a sound future for our cultural institutions, and a brighter one for all of us.

- Gerri Moll, Southwest Florida market president for Bank of America

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