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VOL. 126 | NO. 17 | Wednesday, January 26, 2011

National Study to Measure Arts Impact

STACEY WIEDOWER | Special to The Daily News

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In its mission to serve not only as a funding source for local arts organizations but also as an advocate, ArtsMemphis has joined a nationwide research project that aims to offer a tangible measure of the impact of the arts in Memphis.

Arts & Economic Prosperity IV, a study being conducted through national nonprofit group Americans for the Arts, is the second large-scale data project ArtsMemphis has signed up for in recent months. The first, the Local Arts Index, will provide the city with a benchmark to see how its art scene stacks up to those of other, similar-size metro areas.

Arts & Economic Prosperity, on the other hand, looks at Memphis specifically to see how its arts programs and offerings impact the city’s bottom line.

“The point is to have some hard and fast data to make a case for the arts as a driver for economic vitality and prosperity,” said Susan Schadt, president and CEO of ArtsMemphis. “We want to dispel the misconception that for the arts to have a place and to thrive, it has to be at the expense of economic improvement. That’s totally false, when you look at the amount of jobs and local and state tax revenue created by the arts.”

ArtsMemphis participated in the AFTA Arts & Economic Prosperity study once before, when it launched in 2003. Findings from the earlier study showed that arts organizations generated $101.7 million in local economic activity.

That spending – $47.6 million by nonprofit arts groups and $54.2 million by their audiences – supported 3,616 full-time jobs, generated $74.7 million in household income to local residents and delivered $9 million in local and state government revenue.

“With the economic downturn in the past few years and the different things happening, both good and bad, in the local and national economy we’re very interested in seeing the results of this,” Schadt said. “We’re confident they will be even more impressive than the last time we did it.”

In the 2003 study, Schadt said, Memphis was one of 91 participating communities in 34 states. This year, AFTA is looking to sign on upward of 200 communities in all 50 states.

Randy Cohen, vice president of research at AFTA, said the Arts & Economic Prosperity study helps people understand the economic benefits gained by a community’s investment in the arts.

“I think everybody appreciates the value of improved quality of life – that the arts inspire us and delight us and help us make places we want to live – but a lot of people don’t appreciate the economic aspects of a vibrant arts community,” Cohen said.

In the group’s last study, the findings of nearly 95,000 audience intercept surveys found event-related spending per-person, per-event was $27.87, not including cost of admission.

“A vibrant arts community is good for local merchants, supports jobs, generates revenue and is a cornerstone of tourism in our communities,” Cohen said.

Data collection for the Arts & Economic Prosperity study began Jan. 1 and continues throughout 2011. Final study reports will be delivered to participants in May 2012 and will include an econometric input/output model customized for the region, summary of findings, a comparison of findings to other similar-sized study regions and full national findings.

ArtsMemphis chief operating officer Karen Spacek is spearheading the study, which involves surveying and working with other arts organizations and collecting surveys from 800-plus arts attendees locally.

The Arts & Economic Prosperity Study is happening simultaneously with the Local Arts Index study, which is also administered through AFTA. The arts index – which provides a snapshot of the current state of the arts community, including programming, availability and accessibility of the arts – will be used primarily for strategic planning and goal setting, Schadt said.

The Arts & Economic Prosperity Study, on the other hand, is designed to convince community leaders, citizens, business leaders and government officials of the pull and influence the arts have in the city.

“It’s great in terms of finding ways to apply that knowledge for neighborhood revitalization, for public-private partnerships,” Schadt said. “As we face the future of the city, there are a lot of ways the arts can be used in a positive way.”

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