Public art may not rank highly when Wyomingites think about driving forces of the state's economy, but it may be just the thing to help communities like Laramie get through the current slump.

National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Jane Chu visited Laramie Thursday to tour the University of Wyoming Art Museum and the Laramie Mural Project.

Chu says the economic influence of public art in Laramie is a good example of what she has seen across the country.

"When there's art programs and arts activities and people realize it's not only sparking a vitality in their community, but everyone has an opportunity to be creative in their own ways, that actually can have a relationship with the economic vitality of a community as well," Chu said after meeting with the Laramie Public Art Coalition Thursday morning.

While other industries at a state or local level may suffer at the behest of larger market forces, the appeal of a thriving local arts scene can weather the storm and provide much-needed tax dollars as other revenue streams shrink.

"When people are celebrating a festival or coming for a book reading or there are pop-up galleries at certain times of the year or these wonderful murals, they say 'there's something going on in that community and I want to be part of it,'" Chu said.

Chu also said the coalition is on the right track in promoting the things that make Laramie unique in order to grow the local scene.

Funding from the NEA continues to play a significant role in Laramie's public art displays, including the Laramie Mural Project. The city received an NEA Our Town grant in 2013 to support the creation of a public art plan for Laramie, and Chu discussed that plan with coalition members Thursday.

"She just helped us reiterate what I think we know in our hearts and our gut; to be authentic and to celebrate what us unique about our community," said Trey Sherwood, executive director of the Laramie Main Street Alliance. "To keep in mind that public art is not a template that you follow, there are best practices, but you have to apply that uniquely to your own situation."

"So that was just refreshing to hear -- that it seems like we're early on in the process, but we're setting a good foundation to be on the right track moving forward," Sherwood added.

Chu is scheduled to take part in a public town hall hosted by the Wyoming Arts Council at 6 p.m. Thursday in the Gryphon Theatre at the Laramie Plains Civic Center, where she will speak about the Endowment's 50th anniversary and take questions from the audience.