What do football, opera, museums have in common with a canary?

I have a recurring nightmare: The Chargers leave for Los Angeles, the San Diego Opera shuts its doors and the Museum of Art sells paintings to meet its operating budget.

It’s my worst nightmare because our arts and cultural institutions and sports franchises are the canaries in the coal mine. If they sicken and die, San Diego’s social, cultural and economic well-being will not be far behind.

You don’t have to be a fan of the Chargers or Padres or a patron of the arts to realize that they provide San Diegans with a deeply rich and lively sense of community. They also attract millions of domestic and international tourists every year, garnering hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue for local businesses and taxes for local government.

Still, many San Diegans fail to see the payoffs. They’re like banquet guests blind to the bounty spread before them. What will it take to get beyond small-town thinking and see San Diego for what it is — an international city with big ambitions and creative solutions?

First, we need to support our arts and cultural institutions because they are essential to our community’s social and emotional well-being. They are not charming ornaments, nice to have around but discarded when they prove costly or troublesome.

"Support of the arts is critical in every community and every city,” said Nicolas Reveles, director of education and outreach at San Diego Opera.

“The bigger the city, the greater the need. The arts are transformative; they change lives. Because art, and most certainly opera, expresses our deepest yearnings, emotions and thoughts about human life, every community should have access to it."

Next, we need to support our sports franchises because they are generators of economic and social capital, which build wealth and relationships in the community.

And we need to support our teams when they are winning or losing. We’re with them for the long haul.

Jim Collins, author of the bestseller “Good to Great,” says leaders of good companies can tell what time it is, but leaders of great companies build a clock that tells time long after they’re gone.

Great cities have great leaders who build clocks. A new Chargers stadium is one clock San Diego needs to build.

Opponents of a new Chargers stadium will proclaim loudly that a new stadium benefits no one but team owners. But if that’s so, why are so many cities without NFL franchises trying to recruit one? In fact, Los Angeles is trying to recruit two!

Moreover, there are several academic studies (See Carlino and Coulson in Business Review, 2004) that show persuasively that building a new stadium for an NFL franchise is a win for the city and its residents.

Finally, we need to support arts and cultural institutions and sports franchises because they attract and hold onto creative newcomers to San Diego.

“Fostering a vibrant arts and culture scene is a critical component to any economic development strategy,” said Kris Mitchell, president and CEO of the San Diego Downtown Partnership. “It is about creating a ‘quality of place’ so that we can lure and retain the talent we need to foster our innovation economy.”

Joel Marcus couldn’t agree more. The chairman, CEO and founder of Alexandria Real Estate Equities Inc. said in a recent issue of Forbes: “Our thesis is that if you come to an urban cluster, you’re going to participate in that cluster. You’re not going to hide behind the walls of your isolated campus.”

When they do unwind, many creative newcomers seek out artistic, cultural and sporting events, which are three of a handful of reasons why they came here in the first place.

At one time, the canary was an early warning system for dangerous gases in our nation’s mines. Today, the canary has come above ground and assumed new plumage and a new identity: our community’s arts and cultural institutions and sports franchises. If these institutions leave town or close their doors, San Diego will begin a slow but inevitable decline.

Our arts and cultural institutions and sports franchises are the engines that help drive this community. We all benefit from their inspiring output. We should all support their daring efforts. It’s what healthy and dynamic cities do.

Panetta is president and CEO of Biocom, the trade industry association of the life sciences industry in Southern California.


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