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Report: Nonprofit Arts and Culture Make Huge Contributions to U.S. Economy

June 20, 2017


Americans for the Arts has released the fifth edition of Arts and Economic Prosperity: The Economic Impact of Nonprofit Arts and Cultural Organizations and Their Audiences. The results of this statistical survey are extraordinary, even if you already suspect that the arts are an important economic driver.

While you read the following summary, remember that some experts will tell you that framing the value of supporting the arts in economic terms obscures their real contribution. It’s like talking about the value of science by listing off the labor-saving devices our technical know-how has spawned. Or talking about how good a school is by pointing to its students’ standardized test scores.

Still, even if this is not why people love and fund the arts, we’re still fascinated, right? Because, even though I don’t want you to run your nonprofit new music alliance as if it were a for-profit business, nonprofit arts organizations still make an enormous, dollars-and-cents impact in the U.S. every single year.

How big? That’s the money question. Here’s the report’s answer:

Nationally, the nonprofit arts and culture industry generated $166.3 billion of economic activity during 2015—$63.8 billion in spending by arts and cultural organizations and an additional $102.5 billion in event-related expenditures by their audiences. This activity supported 4.6 million jobs and generated $27.5 billion in revenue to local, state, and federal governments (a yield well beyond their collective $5 billion in arts allocations)

Hold the excited applause for a minute. The finding tells us that, beyond direct spending, a whopping 62 percent of the total economic performance was driven by “event-related expenditures,” which can be anything from restaurant meals and hotel stays, to local retail sales, parking expenses, even babysitters. And of course, spending goes up if you’re a tourist. Americans for the Arts reports: “Based on the 212,691 audience-intercept surveys conducted for this study, the typical arts attendee spends $31.47 per person, per event, beyond the cost of admission.”

According to survey results from audience member interviews,  about 34 percent of attendees come to an event from outside the county in which the event takes place and they spend twice as much as local attendees. And while these numbers won’t surprise anyone in the tourist industry, it’s important to note that there is competition for the local audience as well. Per the report: “As part of the survey, local attendees were asked about what they would have done if the arts event that they were attending was not taking place: 41 percent said they would have ‘traveled to a different community to attend a similar cultural event.’”


Bay Area Notes

Locally, San Francisco participated in the study, along with San Jose, Walnut Creek, Benicia, Santa Clara County and Sonoma County. In San Francisco (population 850,469), nonprofit arts accounted for 39,699 jobs, which translates into more than one billion dollars of resident income, nearly $54 million of local government revenue, and more than $77 million of state government revenue.

It may be that national leaders will ignore the report, but locally, the message is coming through loud and clear: “This economic impact study sends a strong message that when we support the arts, we not only enhance our quality of life, but we also invest in the City and County of San Francisco’s economic well-being,” said San Francisco’s Director of Cultural Affairs Tom DeCaigny.

“The City’s diversity of museums, theatre, festivals, dance, literary arts, music, light art and unique character make The City a unique desirable destination for travelers,” said Joe D’Alessandro, president and CEO of the San Francisco Travel Association. “We position the cultural assets of San Francisco as one of our strategic marketing pillars as we promote the city globally.”

There are, of course, problems that artists face in San Francisco, particularly around housing and studio space. Mayor Ed Lee’s administration is moving steadily to address that problem. Above that, as a city press release notes, Mayor Lee approved “a $2 million enhancement (equivalent to a 50 percent increase) to the City’s Cultural Equity Endowment Fund and $1 million to Grants for the Arts. In addition, the Nonprofit Sustainability Initiative, created in 2016, commits $6 million in programs over the next two years to strengthen nonprofits in San Francisco.”

That’s a pretty good return on investment for the City and County of San Francisco.

Michael Zwiebach is the senior editor/ content manager for SFCV. He assigns all articles and content, manages the writing staff and does editing. A member of SFCV from the beginning, Michael holds a Ph.D. in music history from the University of California, Berkeley.