Is UNESCO membership worth the cost for Paducah?

PADUCAH — Paducah has been part of the UNESCO Creative City Network since 2013. The creative city network is designed to help cities around the world connect and promote art and creativity.

Mayor Brandi Harless has recently traveled to UNESCO — short for  United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization — meetings in foreign countries on the taxpayers’ dime. Some question whether Paducah is getting its money’s worth by sending the mayor to these meetings.

“Spending less than $10,000 to make sure we are showing up and represented in these global meetings is worth it,” says Harless.

Over the past couple of years, Harless has taken four trips abroad for UNESCO meetings. Each trip cost anywhere from just under $200 to just under $2,000. She says it’s all part of making Paducah known around the world.

“Over the last year and a half we were put on the list of the best cities. We’ve been on a lot of lists, and a lot of that comes from the heightened awareness of our community because of the creative cities network,” says Harless.

The mayor admits that the creative cities network mostly only benefits the arts in Paducah.

“The reality is that most of this program is going to mostly be utilized by creatives and the artists in our community,” Harless says.

The mayor says the city of Paducah spends less than $10,000 to be a UNESCO Creative City. Some have asked whether Paducah is getting the most bang for its buck.

Most tourist I spoke with say they have never heard of Paducah being a creative city.

“I had no idea,” says Fred Bodingston, who is visiting Paducah from Rhode Island.

Karen Sangster and some of her friends from high school are visiting from Syracuse, New York. She didn’t know Paducah was a creative city either, and she says they didn’t come for the art.

“You have the waterways and quaint boutique stores. I love the quaint boutique stores,” says Sangster.

However, Harless says she thinks being a UNESCO creative city is vital for Paducah.

“Creativity is a value, and it matters for our economy,” says Harless.