Report shows impact of art on local economy

Report shows impact of art on local economy
Dancers from TranscenDance Youth Arts Project perform during a presentation touting the economic benefits of arts in the region. Photo by Jared Whitlock

COAST CITIES — Roughly 100 San Diegans gathered at the Mingei museum in Balboa Park Tuesday to listen to a presentation about the economic impact of the arts in San Diego. 

The nonprofit Americans for the Arts, in conjunction with economists from Georgia Institute of Technology, looked at the fiscal effects of the arts in 182 U.S. regions by analyzing full-time jobs supported by the arts, industry statistics and how many times arts-related dollars are re-spent in the community, as well as other data.

“The arts inspire us, they entertain us, they delight us, they educate us,” said Randy Cohen, vice president of research and policy at Americans for the Arts during the press conference. “What we’re going to hear now is that this research study shows they’re also good for the economy.”

In San Diego, including North County, the study found nonprofit arts and culture organizations provided more than 20,000 jobs and accounted for more than $665 million in economic activity in 2010.

About $272 of the $665 million can be chalked up to spending from local art and culture organization, according to Cohen.

“Art organizations are good business citizens,” Cohen said. “They employee people locally in the community, they purchase goods and services locally, they’re members of the chamber of commerce and convention and visitors bureau. So they’re involved in the marketing and promotions of their cities and regions.”

Locals and tourists spent $329 million on nonprofit arts-related events in San Diego, which doesn’t include the cost of admission to the event. For example, if a couple goes to a play, they might spend money on gas, parking, a meal at a nearby restaurant and wine and programs at the theater. Per person, excluding the price of admission, residents spent about $39 on average at arts happenings, with non-residents at $60, respectively.

Nonprofit arts and culture organizations also generated nearly $30 million in local and $40 million in state government revenue, according to the study.

Compared to Phoenix, Ariz., a similar sized city, San Diego spends almost double on the arts. Nationally, the study shows nonprofit arts represent $135 billion in annual economic activity.

Attendance at arts and culture events in the region totaled more than 9 million people, with tourists accounting for almost 1.6 million of the figure.

Randomly selected people from events like operas and free community music festivals contributed to the study by answering survey questions regarding meals, transportation, lodging and other art-related behavior. According to the study, data was collected throughout the year to guard against seasonal spikes or drop-offs in attendance.

Cohen said the study, which represents the spending patterns of 408,000 art attendees nationwide, is the most comprehensive examination of arts and the economy ever released.

“This study is good news for those who care about community and economic development,” Cohen said. “You can invest in the arts.”

Solana Beach Councilman Dave Roberts, who is running for San Diego County supervisor, was among those at the event.

“It’s key to back the arts,” Roberts said before the presentation. “They create jobs, bring in tourism and add to quality of life.”

After playing a song on violin, Nuvi Mehti from the San Diego Symphony said many, from Alzheimer’s patients to famous composers like George Gershwin to at-risk youth, have benefited from music programs.

“We have countless, countless examples of how music was a ticket for a young person who may not have had many options in life,” Mehti said. “So often music can be what gives them a leg up in life.”

The nonprofit group Art Pulse served as the study partner for the survey in San Diego County.

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