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Michael Kaiser Headshot

Advocating for the Arts

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I have written often about the need for arts organizations across the globe to increase their fundraising capacity to compensate for the steady decline in government support for the arts in most nations. And I still believe this is essential.

But this does not mean I am not a big advocate for government arts support. I do believe that there are many rationales for governments underwriting the activities of arts organizations. Some of these arguments are sociological and others are financial. While the argument that the arts have value in their own right resonates with many of us in the field, I have found that it is the financial arguments that are the most potent with lawmakers.

There was a fascinating article in the Liverpool Daily Post about the effect of cultural institutions and events on tourism in Liverpool. (Let's take a moment here recognize the value of web sites -- in this case ArtsJournal -- that provide access to publications like the Liverpool Daily Post. How else could we become knowledgeable about the arts news of the day?)

A recent study in Liverpool suggests that half of its over £3 billion of tourism dollars can be attributed to people who are attracted owing to the range if cultural events offered there. (I was fortunate enough to teach an arts management class in Liverpool while on a tour of England two years ago and can attest to the diversity and vigor of the arts organizations in the area and the large number of tourists who visit.) In fact, cultural tourism now outranks Beatles and football (soccer) as motivations for visiting the city! The spending of visitors to the National Museums Liverpool supports over 630 jobs each year alone. The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic has determined that for every pound invested by the government in its activities, £7.61 are created in the economy. This sounds like a pretty good deal to me. What other investment does any government make that returns more to the economy?

This multiplier effect has been discussed for decades. We know that arts organizations are critical for local restaurants, parking, taxis, hotels, etc. Yet it is equally clear that the economic importance of the arts is not fully understood in most cities across the globe.

Why is government funding consistently cut in an era of austerity? If politicians are concerned about job creation and economic growth, why are they cutting arts support?

This is a disconnect that doesn't make sense to me. It seems we have not made our argument well enough or often enough.

Yet, we have to be realistic. Unless and until our elected officials come to understand and act upon the true impact of government arts support we need to bolster our fundraising skills. We cannot watch our arts ecology shrink as we wait for government funding to increase.

But we must also continue to advocate for greater levels of government support using the most potent arguments we have available to us.