THE BLOG
10/02/2013 12:04 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Celebrating the Arts Across All Sectors

October is National Arts and Humanities Month. All across the country arts organizations and municipalities and states take the time to recognize the special efforts of civic leaders, philanthropists and arts organizations in making better, stronger, more vibrant communities. I celebrated already by enjoying a virtual festival of art at the national Independent Sector conference where Tony Award-winner Brian Stokes Mitchell, jazz legend Wynton Marsalis, legendary vocalists Toshi Reagon and Bernice Johnson Reagon among others inspired the assembled 13,00 nonprofit and philanthropic leaders and illustrated the transformative power of the arts in helping to solve neighborhood and national problems.

In reality, every month could be an arts and humanities month in America. There are now more than 100,000 nonprofit theaters, dance companies, orchestras, museums, media arts centers, and festivals along with innumerable libraries, history museums, literature groups and other humanities venues creating the rich tapestry of culture available locally in our country. That list does not even include the literally hundreds of thousands more unincorporated choruses, choirs and poetry clubs as well as the many thousands of for-profit arts entities from Hollywood to Broadway to main street USA. This nationwide availability of arts and cultural offerings stimulates tourism from across the globe as well as massive local attendance and the resulting strong economic impact at a time when our country sorely needs all the economic help it can get.

How did the arts get to be such a bright light on the American landscape? Why do arts businesses account for 4.2 percent of all American businesses? The key for the last half century has been public-private financial partnership. A little bit of federal government involvement (and I mean really little) starting in the '60s and spread across the United States helped spawn state and local government investment that attracted an even higher amount of private dollars mostly from individuals but also from corporations and foundations. As I write this, our federal government is in the midst of a shutdown, but the long-term leverage benefits of federal investments still keeps working away. And most importantly and uniquely in the nonprofit world, all of this giving was matched by individuals spending their own money, producing earned income for the arts organizations from tickets purchases and product buying to memberships and more. This high percentage of total earned revenue on average among arts organizations makes the arts sector different from many other parts of the nonprofit sector which are more reliant exclusively on charitable giving.

The balance of income sources for the arts is constantly shifting as the economy changes, as politics reflects warring ideologies. And this balance is shifting right now. As Congress' continued dysfunction continues to stifle economic growth, public and private funding have both remained pretty flat. The demand for arts services has increased, and the resiliency of nonprofit arts organizations has kept their numbers high and growing during this time. This all might seem amazing since we mostly read about problems and arts groups going out of business, but that is not the complete story. All this has shifted the income mix toward even more reliance on earned income. Never has there been more need for marketing skills, entrepreneurial abilities, positioning for cultural tourism, and all the innovative product development and creative communications approaches that get people to part with their own hard-earned money to purchase the magic of an arts experience. One of Americans for the Arts' fastest growing services is our National Arts Marketing Project (NAMP) Conference, which happens next month in Portland, OR backed up by free NAMP services online.

As America celebrates National Arts and Humanities Month in October, Americans for the Arts will also be celebrating our nation's complex mix of support for the arts. We honor business support and business leaders at our Business Committee for the Arts BCA 10 awards on October 2. On October 21, we celebrate individual patronage and the contributions of great artists -- this year B.B. King, Joel Shapiro and Dakota Fanning -- at our National Arts Awards ceremony. Americans for the Arts honored the support of the public sector at the federal, state and local levels and those key elected officials who truly get it and keep public investment alive all summer long at events for Mayors, Lt. Governors, county leaders, state legislators and the U.S. Congress at their own national gatherings. This mix of public and private philanthropy must be protected and celebrated, and common sense would indicate that for the sake of our economy alone these investments should be expanded. But the power of earned income, now some 60 percent of the national composite of support for arts organizations here in the united States, is celebrated every day, in every nook of our national landscape, as citizens and visitors alike dig down into their own pockets and vote yes for the arts in theaters, museums, symphony halls, jazz clubs and dance performances in every part of America.

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