5 key ways the arts drive economic & community development

Posted by Sarah Sidman, Feb 04, 2016 0 comments

 “[Cultural activities] enrich and expand on my understanding of what binds us together as a community, where we have come from and perhaps where we are going.”
-ArtsFund Patron Survey, 2015

Arts advocates often talk about how cultural organizations play a critical role in creating a vibrant, thriving economy, in definining civic identity, and in building an engaged and connected population, but how do we support that claim? ArtsFund, a Seattle-based grant making and advocacy organization, recently published its fifth Economic Impact Study of Arts, Cultural and Scientific Organizations in the Central Puget Sound Region to produce research to do just that. We compiled 2014 fiscal year data from 313 cultural nonprofits — including dance, festival, heritage, interdisciplinary, music, science, theater, visual arts and arts service organizations — in Washington’s King, Kitsap, Pierce and Snohomish counties, then surveyed more than 3,500 patrons during 2015. The findings are clear: cultural organizations significantly contribute to both economic and community development. Framed by the data, let’s look at five key ways the arts strengthen communities.

1. Fueling Local and State Economies

In 2014, cultural organizations in the Central Puget Sound region and their patrons generated $2.4 billion in business activity. This is due to spending that organizations make in the process of supplying their services – 93% of which is spent locally – and spending of cultural patrons. Ticket sales accounted for one-third of patron spending, with the remaining two-thirds spent in restaurants, transportation, hotels, retail shops and child care. Cultural activity clearly drives spending in our downtowns and our neighborhoods, as 75% of patrons surveyed reported the primary reason for their outing was to attend the event at which they were interviewed.

In addition to directly employing people, cultural organizations create jobs through their business activities and patron expenditures: supporting 35,376 direct and indirect jobs in Washington State, producing $996 million in labor earnings and benefits, while generating $105 million in tax revenue. These impacts create a ripple effect of economic activity throughout the state.

The 5th Avenue Theatre, A Chorus Line, Photo by Mark Kitaoka.












2. Attracting Outside Investment and Driving Tourism

Cultural organizations attract patrons both inside and outside their communities. Approximately 30% of the economic impacts in our four-county region are coming from funding sources and patrons outside the region. We consider these impacts “new money” — funds that come here only due to the activities of local cultural institutions. Patrons are responsible for 75% of these new money impacts, indicating cultural tourism is an economic driver. Significantly, spending from patrons outside the state is three times higher than that of local patrons – showing that cultural organizations are generating additional income for the region.

3. Fostering Civic Engagement.

Attendance growth in our region has well outpaced population growth over the past 20 years, as seen when benchmarked against prior ArtsFund studies.  Annual admissions to Central Puget Sound cultural activities in 2014 totaled 13.4 million visits — more than three times the population of our four counties. Cultural organizations are actively encouraging this broad participation, with 42% of 2014 admissions being free or discounted.  

Spectrum Dance Theater, Carmina Burana 2015 at the Moore Theatre, Photo by Tino Tran.













Participation in cultural activity directly correlates to an increase in civic engagement, including voting, volunteering, and charitable work, as documented by the National Endowment for the Arts.  One patron in the ArtsFund study expressed, “Arts and cultural activities allow me to learn, explore, think, dream and understand. These activities increase my quality of life, reduce stress and encourage me to engage and participate in the community.” Illustrating this positive civic behavior, in our region, 28,849 volunteers dedicated 1.2 million hours to support cultural organizations in 2014. In addition, 14% of the income of cultural organizations came from donations by individuals, with 90% of these donations coming from within the region.

4. Building Skills and Enhancing Educational Opportunities for Youth.

A 4th grader  at Leschi Elementary School tries out the violin at the “Instrument Petting Zoo,” part of the Catalyst Quartet extended residency in Seattle public schools. Photo credit: Phil Lanum.

















Early exposure to the arts improves educational outcomes and builds confidence, creativity and discipline in our children, teaching them about empathy, creative problem solving and self-expression. Of all the admissions to cultural organizations in 2014, 1.2 million were visits by K-12 students provided with free or discounted admission— a number that is twice as high as our region's school-age population. This indicates that cultural organizations are providing opportunities for repeat exposure to the arts, giving our children a greater chance of success in school and beyond.

5. Defining Civic Identity and Creating a More Connected Community

Quality of life is often cited as a major driver behind our region’s global competitiveness, and our ability to attract top talent from around the globe to live, work and raise a family. Over 90% of those surveyed rated cultural activity as highly important to the region’s identity.  Whether cited as a reason to move here or as a reason to stay, cultural activity was identified as integral to the region’s livability and quality of life. As one patron expressed, “Culutre is a vital element of this region’s identity. Great art is a critical part of what makes this region a great place to live.”

In the surveys, patrons expressed how cultural activity leads to a more connected population, where diverse groups can share common experiences, hear new perspectives and better understand each other. Patrons stated that “developing our knowledge of culture is critical for understanding others and critically examining ourselves" and “I feel very fortunate to be in a city that appreciates the role culture plays in society, it keeps us human and expands our perception of the world around us.”

Village Theatre, Mary Poppins, Photo by Mark Kitaoka, Property of Village Theatre.

ArtsFund’s Economic Impact Study reminds us that arts and cultural organizations advance many strategies used by private, public, and philanthropic leaders to strengthen communities. The findings show the ripple effect of the arts in supporting a thriving economy as well as building more connected communities, elevating the quality of life, and defining regional and civic identity. Whether your focus is on strengthening the economy, enhancing education, improving outcomes for youth, talent acquisition and retention, or building stronger neighborhoods, the arts can be a robust tool to achieve your goals.

This community-wide effort was a product of cross-sector partnership and support, including funding from: The Seattle Foundation, King County, 4Culture, Bank of America, Safeco Insurance, Visit Seattle, the Nesholm Family Foundation, Seattle Office of Arts & Culture, and Amazon.  

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