What Difference Does the Arts Make?

Forget about the “soft” quality-of-life values of the arts — creativity, critical thinking, improved physical and mental health and skills — the usual things advocates say about the value of the arts.

The arts and culture industry is also big business and a major economic driver in states and communities of all sizes. The U.S. nonprofit arts and culture industry generated $166.3 billion in economic activity in 2015, including $63.8 billion in spending by arts and cultural organizations and $102.5 billion in event-related spending by audiences, a report from Americans for the Arts finds.

Based on data gathered from more than fourteen thousand arts and cultural groups in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, the report, Arts & Economic Prosperity 5 found that the economic activity generated by the groups supported 4.6 million jobs and provided $27.5 billion in local, state, and federal government revenue — more than five times the $5 billion in public funding allocated to the arts. The report also found that attendees at nonprofit arts events spent an average of $31.47 per person in related spending in addition to the cost of admission, with the 34.1 percent of attendees who traveled from other counties to attend an event spending an average of $47.57, compared with $23.44 for local attendees. Given that 69 percent of out-of-town attendees said the arts event was the primary purpose of their visit, the report argues, it is clear that “a vibrant arts community not only keeps residents and their discretionary spending close to home, it also attracts visitors who spend money and help local businesses thrive.”

Conducted in partnership with 13organizations, including the United States Conference of Mayors, the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy, Independent Sector, and Grantmakers in the Arts, the study found that 82 percent of surveyed Americans believe that arts and culture are important to local businesses and the economy, 87 percent believe they are important to one’s quality of life, and 73 percent say the arts are “a positive experience in a troubled world.” While volunteer hours and in-kind contributions to arts and cultural groups are not included in the study’s measures of economic impact, organizations participating in the survey averaged more than 84 volunteers and 74 hours per volunteer — worth an estimated $4.3 million per organization — while 58.4 percent of participating organizations received in-kind support valued at an average of $61,903.

“By every measure, the results of Arts & Economic Prosperity 5 prove that the arts are an industry — a generator of government revenue, a cornerstone of tourism, and an employment powerhouse both locally and across the nation,” said Robert L. Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts. “Leaders who care about community and economic vitality, growing tourism, attracting an innovative workforce, and community engagement can feel good about choosing to invest in the arts.”

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