BRATTLEBORO-- If the arts community had to prove its value to the local economy in court, would it have enough evidence?
It now has a key new piece of evidence, with the release of a new report, "Art and Prosperity in Windham County," presented by the Arts Council of Windham County.
The report shows that the county’s non-profit arts organizations and their audiences spend nearly $11 million a year, and that this spending provides the equivalent of 330 full-time jobs in the county and yields $818,000 in local and state taxes.
"The main point is that arts and culture are not a black hole. Yes, they require investment, they require sustenance, they require support, but this study does reveal that there is a return on investment," said Zon Eastes, main author of the local report.
"I think I see this as a good, timely way to communicate the idea of the arts as being not a frill but a lively piece of the community," said Doug Cox, president of the Arts Council of Windham County, which undertook the report at the invitation of Americans for the Arts, the nation’s leading non-profit organization for advancing the nation’s arts.
The 22-page study is derived from information gathered from 41 Windham County non-profit arts organizations for 2010 and surveys of 600 of their audience members during 2011. Americans for the Arts analyzed these findings, along with those from 181 other areas in all 50 states,
According to the report, the Windham County non-profit organizations in the survey directly spent $7,556,676, which supported 228 full-time jobs, paid $5,920,000 in income and returned $116,000 to town governments and $399,000 to Vermont government.
Audience spending in 2010 came to $3,231,306, which supported another 102 full-time jobs, paid $1,524,000 in income, and sent $100,000 to town governments and $203,000 to the state.
And those numbers tell only part of the story. What the report did not include was data from for-profit arts businesses or from individual artists.
"This is not meant to be the be-all and end-all," said Eastes. "But I want to be sure this has a voice."
Nationally, the non-profit arts and culture industry generates $135.2 billion in economic activity, supporting 4.1 million jobs and generating $22.3 billion in government revenues annually, according to the AFTA nationwide report. In contrast, state, local and federal government entities spend less than $4 billion annually to support the arts.
Those arts and culture organizations represent .87 percent of the American workforce, a larger percentage than lawyers, accountants and auditors, police officers or farmers, the report said.
"A study like this convinces me still further that even Windham County needs to look seriously at what it means to invest in this kind of community," said Eastes.
Over the next months, representatives of ACWC and arts organizations will be trying to do some convincing of their own, presenting the report to town and state officials, legislators and business community leaders around the county and generally "trying to disseminate it widely and deeply," Cox said.
"It is very helpful for us to have these figures and analysis tools," stated Pam Lierle, managing director of the Brattleboro Music Center, one of the study participants. "We can use this information to make better decisions about what and how we do our work. We can now quantify the role we have in the regional economy and who our natural partners are."
"In the wider world, I don’t think you can make the case too many times," said Gail Nunziata, managing director of Latchis Arts.
Nunziata was involved in the drafting of an earlier AFTA report, compiled in 2005 and released in 2007, which showed the economic impact of Brattleboro’s arts economy to be $11 million. While that number hasn’t gone up, it hasn’t gone down significantly, even in the wake of the 2008 recession and lingering economic malaise.
"It’s interesting to me that the ultimate number is still $11 million, but in this environment that’s a win," Nunziata said.
Because of the economic downturn, audience spending nationwide has dropped by $30 billion, but spending by arts organizations dropped by only $2 billion, the report said.
"Many people feel that arts organizations are pretty well-versed in how to stay alive. I think that’s significant because we’ve certainly seen a lot of other services cut back," said Eastes.
"The economy goes down, but the passion doesn’t," added Cox.
In making their case, Cox, Eastes and others will also point out that dollars spent on the arts or donated to arts organizations tend to stay local and be re-spent in the local community.
"Folks should feel pretty good about the money they spend on tickets and the money they donate," Cox said.
The study also compares Windham County with four other communities of similar size. That comparison reveals some interesting things that help community leaders decide how to turn findings of the report into action.
Of the five communities compared, Windham County is second highest in direct spending by arts organizations, jobs supported, household income paid and state revenue generated. But Windham County ranks at the bottom in audience spending and its impacts.
"Audience spending is below national average, and the percentage of out-of-area audience is below national average. It seems like there’s room for improvement," said Cox.
The study also looks at the value of volunteer contributions and in-kind gifts. Here, Windham County grades well, ranking first among the five comparison areas in number of volunteers, hours given and value of the hours ($809,950). Add to that $377,800 in in-kind support for a total value of donated services at $1.2 million.
Cox hopes this report, in addition to being valuable in its own right, will mark an important step in ongoing efforts to track and document the importance of the region’s arts community. Documenting the contributions of artists and organizations in the for-profit sector and developing data around the impact a healthy arts sector has on quality of life and the ability of businesses to attract and keep employees might be avenues of future study, he said.
The Arts Council of Windham County is a 37-year-old non-profit with the mission to "strengthen the environment for artists and arts organizations in Windham County." This report, in PDF format, is available at www.acwc.us.
Jon Potter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 149.