In 1992, the Short North was a funky stretch of North High Street, and by funky I mean by turns vibrant with off-beat personalities and stinky.

Remember when your parents told you to do your math homework instead of going to poetry readings because you should be focused on getting a “real job”? Oh wait, that was my life.

The truth? Art is a “real job”—Columbus’ thriving creative scene is proof. Arts organizations in the region contribute more than $412 million annually in economic impact and support 15,000 jobs, and that’s not including a robust design and marketing community spanning architects, interior designers, graphic artists, fashion designers, merchandisers, copywriters and so many more important roles (so there, Mom).

Here in Columbus, art is at the center of many of the most exciting developments to take place in decades—a billion-dollar-plus overhaul along North High Street from I-670 up through the University District, anchored by the Short North Arts District; a revival in our oldest neighborhood, Franklinton, inspired by pioneering artists and makers; and a planned $161 million arts campus that Ohio State University hopes will serve as a front door for visitors.

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It wasn’t always like this. I distinctly remember growing up in a Columbus that didn’t quite know what to make of art and artists; certainly they weren’t seen as profit centers or drivers of economic development in a town obsessed with college football. So what happened? I asked Greater Columbus Arts Council CEO Tom Katzenmeyer—you can find his answer here in a story recognizing him as our large nonprofit CEO of the Year.

I told Tom during an inspiring conversation that I have loved watching this city come into its own. What I didn’t say was that I have loved the transformation even if it meant sometimes that I lost the very places I loved.

In 1992, the Short North was a funky stretch of North High Street, and by funky I mean by turns vibrant with off-beat personalities and stinky. There was a minimalist, high-ceilinged coffee shop with stark white walls and beautiful afternoon light on the corner of Buttles and High where as a high schooler, I spent a lot of time pretending to like the coffee. It’s a trendy taco restaurant now.

Early Gallery Hops were a place to distribute the literary magazine I created with high school friends while my parents wondered if it was safe for me to hang out there after dark. The counterculture neighborhood vibe back then was much more my speed than the touristy, well-to-do strip that’s become the most celebrated place in town.

But I’m thrilled people are taking art seriously.

Katy Smith is the editor of Columbus CEO.