ARLINGTON — From art exhibits to music festivals, Arlington aims to invest even more money in arts and cultural events designed to bring tourists to town.For the first time since 2006, the city is increasing the annual grant funds set aside for such events from $100,000 to $125,000. The money comes from hotel occupancy taxes and is awarded in January to arts and cultural organizations like the Levitt Pavilion and the Arlington Museum of Art that can prove their events draw visitors — and their wallets — from outside the city.“It really is an economic development tool in a way because we bring people to Arlington through the arts that might not otherwise be here,” Councilman Robert Shepard said. Grant funding will increase in fiscal 2014, which starts Tuesday.Arlington has funded the matching grant program for at least the past two decades. After briefly halting the program in fiscal 2004 and 2005, the city resumed it in fiscal 2006 and doubled the funding from $50,000 to $100,000. The Arlington Chamber Foundation temporarily operated the program before the city turned it over in 2011 to Experience Arlington, the city’s contracted tourism marketer. Experience Arlington’s Arlington Cultural Tourism Council has awarded 14 grants the past two years and is taking applications until Oct. 15.“Because arts events are relatively new to Arlington, we encourage applications from those seeking to establish a new annual event that has the possibility of growing into something attended by thousands from all over the U.S.,” said Carl Little, who chairs the cultural tourism council.The Arlington Museum of Art said the $25,000 grant it received last year helped fund its “Rembrandt: An Evolution of Etchings” exhibit, which drew 5,000 visitors from 16 countries, 41 states and 123 Texas cities outside Arlington.Chris Hightower, the museum’s executive director, said many visitors have said they were in town for games at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.“That is exactly what is supposed to happen. We are supposed to get them engaged in other activities while they are here,” Hightower said. The 5-year-old Levitt Pavilion in downtown Arlington, which hosts free concerts in summer and fall, has more than 100,000 visitors a year, said Executive Director Patti Diou. Last summer, a random survey of 1,000 visitors found attendees had come from 10 states and 135 other cities, Diou said.The Levitt Pavilion, which relies on grants and donations, received $40,000 from the cultural tourism council in 2012. That helped the organization put on the three-day Center Stage Musical Festival this past Memorial Day weekend.“This grant money, it helps us be able to bring a higher caliber of artist that is going to make people want to come into town to visit, stay and eat and help out with the city’s overall economy,” Diou said. “It’s critical for us to have this type of support and the support of the community to continue to be here.”Theatre Arlington, which has 30,000 visitors a year, received a $35,000 grant last year to help with show production. During the first two shows of its 2012-13 season, it saw visitors from 12 states, including Alaska, and 75 Texas cities outside Arlington.“Generally, those people who fit the arts into their vacation are going to stay longer and spend more money,” said Kim Lawson, the theater’s development director.The cultural council hopes to use the extra grant funding to support even more groups and help stage larger projects, Little said.“The Arlington Museum of Art is a great example of how support can catapult opportunity into an area previously thought impossible. Years ago, who would have thought the museum would be able to showcase the original sketchings of Rembrandt? But projects like that were made possible in part by the grant and will continue to get bigger,” Little said.
Susan Schrock, 817-390-7639 Twitter: @susanschrock