Here’s the truth about cities: we are all competitive. How many top-ten lists do you see every year—Most Livable, Most “Green,” Best for Families? We all want to be on that list, and no one wants to end up falling short. That’s why data can be so impactful for the decision-makers in a city, and it is precisely why economic impact studies are not new to the Fort Worth-area arts community. Yet despite our long history of participating in different regional economic impact studies, we—like so many others across the country—saw our arts funding at risk and decreasing every year. It became clear that in order for the numbers to be truly valid to our city leaders, we needed a study that reflected solely information from Fort Worth. Those past reports—as robust as they might have seemed—never quite belonged to us, and never gained the traction we hoped that they would with decision-makers.
That is when Americans for the Arts came in with the Arts & Economic Prosperity IV ™ report, and we started to see an important shift in the thinking. We stepped out to ask for the economic impact of Fort Worth, and only Fort Worth. Americans for the Arts delivered and the Fort Worth community listened. We presented those findings throughout the community to business leaders and citizens – then finally to the City Council. The Americans for the Arts data release was perfectly timed, coming out a month before our city budget was set in 2012. Yet even then, the council still reduced the budget.
Fortunately, during that council meeting, our mayor stood up and said, “We have to stop this; we have to figure this out.” She made a pledge to put together a task force of citizens to solve our shrinking budget, and true to her word, she put a very even-minded task force together. Some were arts-supporters; some were business leaders who were not so sure city money should go to the arts. Over the subsequent five months, the group went over our economic impact findings with a fine-toothed comb. During that time they studied and talked to people in our community. And they looked, too, at the graph showing how Forth Worth stacked up against other cities for arts funding: it didn’t look impressive.
So after months of studying the numbers presented in the Economic Impact Study, analyzing support in other cities, and listening to citizens, arts supporters, and arts organizations, our city council listened and responded—to the tune of $1.1 million, doubling our funding from last year. It goes to show: personalizing your numbers makes a difference, and it never hurts to get the competitive fires burning, either.