Huffpost Arts
Robert L. Lynch Headshot

'Arts & Economic Prosperity IV' Proves That the Arts Industry Is Resilient, Even in a Down Economy

Posted: Updated:

I am at the airport having just left almost 1,000 of my best arts friends who had come together for the Americans for the Arts' Annual Convention in San Antonio. I was struck once again by the passion, creativity, resolve, sacrifice and vision that these arts workers have in trying to shape better communities and a better America through the arts. And this week there is a new tool to help them: the "Arts and Economic Prosperity IV" study, which shows that America's arts industry generates $135.2 billion in economic activity.

The largest and most comprehensive study of its kind ever conducted, "Arts & Economic Prosperity IV" documents the key role played by the nonprofit arts and culture industry in strengthening our nation's economy. Now...I should note that the point of the arts is obviously not to create economic impact or jobs; the point is to help us communicate in new ways about what it is like to be human, the good, the painful, the ugly, and the sublime. But isn't it great to know that the arts are also a robust industry that helps fuel America's economy and sustain U.S. jobs?

Of the $135.2 billion of economic activity generated by America's arts industry, $61.1 billion comes from the nation's nonprofit arts and culture organizations and $74.1 billion from event-related expenditures by their audiences. This economic activity supports 4.1 million full-time jobs and produces $22.3 billion in revenue to local, state, and federal governments every year -- a yield well beyond their collective $4 billion in arts allocations.

These numbers are remarkable, especially considering the economic climate in 2010, when the study was conducted. Unemployment was at 9.7 percent in 2010 -- more than double the rate from when "Arts & Economic Prosperity III" was conducted in 2005. The Consumer Confidence Index, as measured by the Conference Board, plummeted to 54 (nearly half its 2005 level) and the number of home foreclosures tripled to 2.9 million from 2005. "Arts & Economic Prosperity IV" proves that the arts industry is resilient, even in a slow economy.

Still, like most industries, the Great Recession left a measurable financial impact on the arts -- erasing the gains made during the pre-recession years and leaving 2010 expenditures 3 percent behind the 2005 levels. Yet, even in a down economy, some on the 182 communities included in the study saw an increase in their arts spending and employment. They are already producing new and exciting work -- performances and exhibitions and festivals that entertain, inspire and draw audiences. So as the economy rebounds, the arts are well-poised for growth.

The biggest effect of the recession, however, was on attendance and audience spending. Inevitably, as people lost jobs and worried about losing their homes, arts attendance -- like attendance to sports events and leisure travel -- waned. Still, even during the most shattering economic downfall the county has experienced in generations, arts audiences still made it a point spend their hard-earned dollars to ensure the arts were still a part of their lives.

And their money didn't just go to tickets. When patrons attend an arts event, they may pay for parking, eat dinner at a restaurant, shop in local retail stores and have dessert on the way home. Based on the 151,802 audience surveys conducted for this study, the typical arts attendee spends $24.60 per person, per event, beyond the cost of admission. And communities that draw cultural tourists experience an additional boost of economic activity. Tourism industry research has repeatedly demonstrated that arts tourists stay longer and spend more than the average traveler. "Arts & Economic Prosperity IV" reflects those findings: 32 percent of attendees live outside the county in which the arts event took place, and their event-related spending is more than twice that of their local counterparts (nonlocal: $39.96 vs. local: $17.42). "Arts & Economic Prosperity IV" demonstrates that America's arts industry is not only resilient in times of economic uncertainty, but is also a key component to our nation's economic recovery and future prosperity.

Arts councils, arts commissions, United Arts Funds, Business Committees for the Arts, Arts and Business Councils -- they're all Local Arts Agencies. They are agents for community development through the arts resulting in the making of creative places. And the byproduct of this creative placemaking, as "Arts & Economic Prosperity IV" clearly shows, is jobs and economic vitality for these American communities.

San Antonio is a great example of all sectors working together for not only economic benefit but artistic as well. It is a beautiful, art-filled city with that showcases its unique past while also supporting a cultural life exploding with sounds and sights of an America of the future. And as leaders who spoke here this week -- Former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros, Ford Foundation President Luis Ubiñas, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, among others -- all agreed that this arts-filled present is a jobs-and-economic-vitality-filled future.