6692: An Act Authorizing Certain Arts, Culture, and Tourism Grants.

Good afternoon. My name is Rachel Lenda, and I am employed by the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut as the Administrative Partnerships Manager.

I spend the majority of my time providing the daily operations and business management for the Eastern Regional Tourism District. Additionally, I write grants for the Chamber, too. On top of my daily work schedule, I’m also a musician and a leader in Connecticut’s live music culture.

My testimony today is in reference to Raised Bill number 6692, An Act Authorizing Certain Arts, Culture, and Tourism Grants.

Thank you to Co-Chair’s Representative Mesker and Senator Hartley and the Commerce Committee for the opportunity to testify today.

Additionally, my gratitude for our District’s Senators and Representatives: Senator Somers, Senator Needleman, Representative Vail, and Representative Cheeseman on this Committee.

I would like to acknowledge our District’s sponsors for this bill: Senator Somers, Senator Marx, Representative Carney, and Representative Nolan – they recognize the importance of investing in arts, culture, and tourism to the state’s economy and workforce.

This bill has the potential to provide meaningful, reliable, and equitable investment supported by the proposals from the Connecticut Arts Alliance, Connecticut Humanities, and the Connecticut Tourism Coalition.
J. Irwin Miller famously said, “The calling of the humanities is to make us truly human in the best sense of the word.” Raised bill 6692 is an opportunity to elevate the human experience and impact the core memories of residents and travelers alike in Connecticut. This investment in arts, culture, and tourism moves beyond the fiscal contribution. It is what Representative Meskers shared at the beginning of this hearing – emotional and communal development support.

We are investing in lifelong connections that people carry when they travel, listen to music, view art, and immerse themselves in local culture.

We want to be the destination people think of when they reflect on their life experiences – to be associated with their core memories. It should also be stated that research shows that most companies want a certain quality of life for their employees in order to retain them. This isn’t about just money for arts, culture, and tourism, it’s also money in support for broader economic development and residential retention.

On behalf of the Eastern Regional Tourism District under the Connecticut Office of Tourism, I have been traveling to Tourism trade shows across the country to represent and promote our great State.

In January, I attended the Travel & Leisure Trade Show in Chicago, February brought me to Detroit for the annual American Bus Association Trade Show, as well as the Tavel & Leisure Trade Show in Washington D.C which was attended by my District Colleague, Francesca Kefalas of The Last Green Valley.

Meetings and conversations with tour operators, group travel agencies, and booking agents were both alarming but also enlightening. I discovered that Connecticut has been a forgotten and untapped destination for some time. Tour operators, group travel agencies, and booking agents -both domestic and international, stated that Connecticut had fallen off their map because we hadn’t been top of mind. These decision makers showed enthusiasm and convincing interest that Connecticut is a destination for their client base.

Connecticut is a thriving cultural hub; there is no shortage of potential tourism assets yet, these entities struggle to promote their product due to lack of funds, resources, and employees. Meanwhile, for every $1 Connecticut invested per capita in arts and culture in 2020, Massachusetts and New York invested $1.60 and Rhode Island $2. At $1.11 per capital, pre-pandemic state funding for tourism ranks lowest among our neighbors – Rhode Island at over $5, New York over $3 and Massachusetts at $1.65. (Sources: Destination International, US. Travel Association, and DNE)

It is time we took our cultural and tourism assets and gave them the attention they desperately deserve. Through raised bill 6692, the funding and grant resources for arts, culture, and tourism will directly impact the livelihood of our tourism industry residents and their financial stability. To this end, my support and testimony speaks from first-hand experience, out on the road promoting the great state of Connecticut as the place to live, work, and play.

Rachel Lenda
Administrative Partnerships Manager
Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut