VOL. 132 | NO. 224 | Friday, November 10, 2017
Arts Are Creative, Economic Fuel for Memphis
Robert L. Lynch
On a recent arrival at the Memphis International Airport, I marveled that my watch hadn’t even been set to Central Time before I heard buzz of the RiverArtsFest, and acquired a hot tip to visit Wild Bill’s for a “real blues club” experience. I’d just arrived and already the arts in Memphis were calling to me.
In a quest to identify the roots of rhythm, soul, blues and rock ’n’ roll, all roads lead here. Few cities can claim such an influential group of American music icons who lived and recorded in Memphis during the last century: Aretha Franklin, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Otis Redding, B.B. King and Justin Timberlake.
Maintaining an investment in the arts is key to any city’s economic vitality and local leaders here in Memphis understand that already. While Memphis is known as a powerhouse in manufacturing and transportation and home to corporate giants including FedEx and AutoZone, the arts sector is one of the largest employers in Shelby County.
A mighty economic force, nonprofit cultural organizations and their audiences in Shelby County generated $197 million in 2015 and supported 6,138 full-time jobs, according to Americans for the Arts’ new Arts & Economic Prosperity 5 study. And more than that, these jobs and related audience expenditures also gave back to the region, providing $8.3 million in local tax revenue and an additional $14 million in state tax revenue. Additionally, more than 500,000 nonresidents visited Shelby County for arts and culture events, generating $24.7 million beyond the cost of admission.
Memphis also hosts a robust arts environment for both nonprofit cultural organizations and private arts-focused businesses to thrive. In fact, there are 1,013 creative industry businesses in Memphis employing nearly 8,000 people. These creative industries, which include everything from art museums to graphic art studios, have not only contributed to Memphis’ economic bottom line but they have also been among the early footprints for redevelopment. For instance, as recently as 2010, the Broad Avenue Arts District was a collection of vacant storefronts; now it’s a vibrant area for artists and businesses. From Overton Square to South Main to Crosstown Concourse, the arts play a key role in revitalization efforts.
But how does Memphis sustain its commitment to the arts and its culture of creative expression that makes the city so unique? The arts can’t flourish without city-wide support of its arts organizations – in Memphis, or in any other city for that matter. This support comes in different forms from the community, and one of the most impactful is the support of local businesses. AutoZone has been one of the city’s biggest champions of the arts and cultural initiatives and institutions in Memphis for decades, and this has manifested through unique funding programs, civic leadership and employee engagement.
This city-wide commitment to the arts led Americans for the Arts to select Memphis as its host for the 2017 National Arts Marketing Project Conference. Beginning Friday (Nov. 10), Americans for the Arts, along with local host ArtsMemphis, will bring nearly 500 arts marketing professionals from around the country to share strategies for attracting wider and more diverse audiences to attend cultural events and, in turn, generate more revenue. These marketing and communications professionals are coming from museums, theaters, dance companies and festivals in communities big and small with the same goal: to cultivate larger local arts audiences and attract tourism spending. This is a strategy that should be part of any American city’s future economic planning.
Residents of Memphis can help sustain the city’s creative soul, even in small ways. Visit galleries, experience live music, attend the small theater production – and take your children and friends. Visit www.artsmemphis.org to find a listing of arts events happening all over the city. Anyone can be an arts supporter.
The arts are good for business, and leaders who care about community and economic development can feel good about choosing to invest in the arts. But the importance extends beyond economics. Arts and culture are the soul of a city, providing people a way to express themselves, enjoy themselves, and communicate the story of Memphis. And the buzz about Memphis is that it is one of America’s great arts cities.
Robert L. Lynch is president and CEO of Washington, D.C.-based Americans for the Arts, the nonprofit organization for advancing the arts and arts education in America.