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June 6, 2007

More of the Same -- Which is Good...Perhaps

Joe Nickell

Today, Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group Americans for the Arts released detailed data from the third in a series of studies on the economic impact of the arts. Titled "Arts and Economic Prosperity III," the survey compiled data on the impact of non-profit arts organizations in 116 cities and counties, 35 multi-county regions, and five states across the nation during 2005.

The study is the third produced by Americans for the Arts; previous studies were published in 1994 and 2002.

This new one shows, essentially, the same thing that the previous two showed: that non-profit arts organizations contribute significantly to local economies. To quote the summary of the results:

"Nationally, the nonprofit arts and culture industry generates $166.2 billion in economic activity annually--a 24 percent increase in just the past five years. That amount is greater than the Gross Domestic Product of most countries. This spending supports 5.7 million full-time jobs right here in the U.S.--an increase of 850,000 jobs since our 2002 study. What's more, because arts and culture organizations are strongly rooted in their community, these are jobs that necessarily remain local and cannot be shipped overseas.

Our industry also generates nearly $30 billion in revenue to local, state, and federal governments every year. By comparison, the three levels of government collectively spend less than $4 billion annually to support arts and culture--a spectacular 7:1 return on investment that would even thrill Wall Street veterans."

Here in Missoula, MT, the results released today are particularly -- perhaps suspiciously -- promising. In the past five years, if we are to trust the results of the previous 2002 study and the current one, non-profit arts and culture organizations and their patrons have more than doubled their contribution to the local economy, from somewhere around $16 million per year to over $34 million.

I've lived here all that time, and things have indeed been good. But that good?

Maybe. Maybe not. A 2001 study by the RAND Corporation found that past attempts to quantify the economic impact of the arts (including the Americans for the Arts surveys) suffered from "noteworthy weaknesses" and "holes in the evidence."

Only time will tell whether this new study will stand up to the analysis of the stat-geeks among us.

Posted by Joe Nickell at June 6, 2007 1:17 PM