Pleasanton was included in Money magazine's list of "The Best Places to Live" in 2010 and named one of "Americans' Top Hometown Spots" by Forbes magazine in 2009. Why do so many Pleasanton residents - and outsiders - love this city? One big reason may be the city's lively arts and culture scene.
Over three years 43,000 people in 26 US communities were asked to answer a range of questions about their personal satisfaction with community life. The results were published as a report called Soul of the Community, which covers a variety of factors that help residents feel an emotional bond to their communities.
According to the 2010 report, done by Gallop and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, aesthetics, openness, and social offerings are even more important factors in community attachment than economy, safety, and civic involvement.
The Soul of the Community report did not exist when the Pleasanton Cultural Arts Council (PCAC) was incorporated in 1979 to "promote appreciation of the arts, provide facilities for arts activities, and create an environment where residents can pursue and enjoy a wide range of cultural opportunities."
Nor was the study around when the City of Pleasanton created its first 10-year Culture Plan in 1989. Pleasanton's leaders have long been passionate in their support of arts and cultural opportunities; the report simply confirms what they already knew: arts and cultural opportunities help make people happy in their communities.
In Soul of the Community, aesthetics is defined as "the physical beauty of the community, including the availability of parks and green spaces." Openness is defined as "how welcoming the community is to different types of people, including families with young children, minorities, and talented college graduates." Social offerings include "places for people to meet each other and the feeling that people in the community care about each other" as well as arts and cultural opportunities and social community events.
Pleasanton is rich in each of these important community factors, perhaps because local leaders and government officials have long understood the value of arts and culture. PCAC, for example, helped promote and establish many of the cultural and performing arts opportunities in the city, including the Pleasanton Community Band, the Pleasanton Unified School District 5th grade strings and music programs, as well as many of the art classes and special projects and classrooms in the schools.
"I feel strongly that the arts and cultural efforts have contributed significantly to the quality of life in Pleasanton as well as have served to incorporate the rich traditions, history, and values of Pleasanton residents that have come before us and those that are newly established into the fabric of our community," says Kelly Cousins, PCAC President.
While the PCAC plays a vital role in Pleasanton's arts and culture scene, so does local city government, which updated its original 10-year Culture Plan in 2014. The updated plan compared Pleasanton to five other regional cities. According to the 2014 Culture Plan, "cities making a sustained, long-term investment in arts and culture reap the greatest benefits, in terms of the strength and breadth of community involvement and support, the vitality of arts programming, and the potential for cost recovery... Pleasanton is at a mid-point in its arts development. Continuing the policy of a leading city role is the most likely path to meeting the evolving community cultural needs of the community."
Pleasanton's residents, workers, and visitors are highly culturally active, according to Michele Crose, Civic Arts Manager for the City of Pleasanton. Nearly everyone participates through attendance and/or personal creative activities such as reading books, taking photographs, or playing a musical instrument, she says.
Families with children are highly engaged in the arts as well; 72% of children regularly participate in the arts after school and more than half of all arts attendance involves children. "We feel this high level of engagement makes us unique and special," says Crose. "We provide a high level of experiences, and our community expects a high level of experiences."
In addition to other activities, the city has taken an active approach to implementing and adding public art in the past few years. "We believe public art increases a community's assets and expresses a community's positive sense of identity and values," says Crose. "It helps green space thrive, enhances roadsides, pedestrian corridors and community gateways and it demonstrates an unquestionable civic and corporate pride in citizenship and affirms an educational environment. We are very proud of our public art collection, which currently contains over 50 pieces."
Arts and cultural opportunities are part of what builds emotional connections between residents and a community, according to Soul of a Community. "Community attachment is an emotional connection to a place that transcends satisfaction, loyalty, and even passion," notes the report. "A community's most attached residents have strong pride in it, a positive outlook on the community's future, and a sense that it is the perfect place for them."
Arts and cultural opportunities can also strongly impact a community's economy, notes Crose. "The arts, unlike most industries, leverage significant amounts of event-related spending by their audiences," she says. "For example, part of the arts experience may include dining out, paying for parking, shopping in local retail stores, enjoying dessert after the show, and returning home to pay the babysitter. The typical arts attendee spends $31.47 per person, per event, beyond the cost of admission. We value and appreciate the businesses in the community and we hope they understand the value that the arts bring to the community as well."
Both PCAC and the City of Pleasanton are among the supporters of an inaugural special event this year. Ignite! Art + Innovation will be held Saturday, October 14 from 5:00 to 9:00 pm in and around the Firehouse Arts Center. The family friendly event will feature digital artist, Jeremy Sutton, the Hot Club of San Francisco, Firelight Society, Fire Spinners, hands-on activities, multiple vendor booths, food from Food Truck Mafia, more than 10 special talks, and much more.
For more information about the event, visit http://www.firehousearts.org/programs/ignite . For more information about PCAC, visit http://pleasantonarts.org . For more information about the City of Pleasanton's Civic Arts programs, visit http://www.cityofpleasantonca.gov/gov/depts/cs/arts/default.asp .