In San Antonio on June 8, the non-profit arts advocacy group Americans for the Arts released its new extensive study on the economic impact of the arts. Arts and Economic Prosperity IV is the first such comprehensive study done since the onset of the recession. While the numbers are down from the 2007 study (Arts and Economic Prosperity III), the new report demonstrates clearly that the non-profit arts and culture sector is remarkably resilient.
The latest study found that the arts in America generate $135.2 billion in economic activity every year, while supporting 4.13 million full-time jobs. This activity led to $74.1 billion in event-related expenditures by American audiences for arts and culture events. The arts generate $86.68 billion in resident household income, leading to $22.3 billion in revenue for local, state, and federal governments annually, representing a very strong return on government’s collective investment of only $4 billion in arts allocations.
An average attendee to arts events and concerts spends $24.60 per event, in addition to admission costs. The value of “cultural tourism” for our cities was again confirmed, as non-resident spending averages over $15 per event above that figure. Cultural tourists have always spent more in their destination cities than other travelers, making our orchestras and other arts organizations true ambassadors for our cities.
These numbers are even more impressive when viewed in context with the environment in which the research took place. The study was conducted throughout 2010, a time when unemployment in America was 9.7%, or more than twice the rate for when the first Americans for the Arts study was conducted. The consumer confidence index had plummeted, and home foreclosures had reached 2.9 million. Still, the non-profit arts and culture industry demonstrated impressive resiliency, illustrating that the arts continue to play an essential role in our country’s economic health, and in the recovery currently underway.
Arts and Economic Prosperity IV was compiled by researching 182 study regions, and the local results are encouraging as well. For example, when the 50th-anniversary conference of ICSOM convenes in Chicago, the city of our founding, we will be meeting in a city where the arts generate over $2.1 billion in annual economic activity, and where ICSOM musicians are vital to the economy of the region.
There are other indicators of the resiliency and importance of the arts. Giving USA reports (in a study conducted in collaboration with the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University) that arts giving in America increased by 4.1% in 2011, to a total of $13.12 billion. This followed an increase in 2010 of 5.7%. As reported by the Huffington Post, arts contributions are recovering from the 2008–09 depths almost twice as fast as other categories of charitable contributions.
There is reason for optimism to be found in these statistics, but studying these numbers can be fatiguing. Placing a monetary value on priceless music seems counterintuitive, an anathema to the aspiration to beauty we all seek to create and reproduce. The musicians of America’s orchestras provide so much in inspiration, education, and in the elevation of the human spirit. The role of music in health care is widely recognized, and in a world that seems all too comfortable with mediocrity, orchestras in America’s cities serve as monuments to excellence for present and future generations. At a time when many people find themselves asking what they can do to improve the world, to change young lives, and to create a better future for the next generation, ICSOM musicians understand well the role they play in people’s lives, and we awake each day to pursue that dream.
But, we must talk about the positive financial impact that our orchestras have in their communities as well. It should be the mission of others, such as our political leaders and board leaders, to make the case for their city that an investment in their orchestra is an investment in the future of their city. Of course, there are some leaders who articulate the mission in an inspiring way. But all too often, I hear cases being made to reduce the growth of orchestras, and inevitably to reduce the positive impact — be it financial, educational, or in every way — of our orchestras.
The current mindset of numerous managements seems focused only on drastic cuts. I fear that the boards and managements of some orchestras, especially some that will be facing serious negotiations soon, risk cutting their orchestras out of business.
I have often said that no business ever solved a financial problem by offering an inferior product to its public. Orchestras with shortened seasons, and with drastically reduced complements, ask their audiences to be content with less.
Now more than ever musicians must be their own advocates — and must be committed to positive advocacy that can change the tone and the expectations for the future of the arts in America.
The musicians of ICSOM led this effort in the sixties, playing a role in the creation of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The NEA needs musicians to be activists once again, as a recent subcommittee report out of Congress has recommended a $14 million cut in funding for the NEA. As the data from Arts and Economic Prosperity IV indicates, every dollar invested in the arts by government returns a high yield to the community. Cutting the arts in this way, only because it is convenient, is simply bad business.
At this time of recovery for our country, we all should be examining ways to invest in orchestras so that they can be more accessible to all Americans of all ages, not looking for ways to minimize their impact in a misguided cost-cutting frenzy. The so-called “cure” being propounded by certain board members and symphony managements is shortsighted, counterproductive and, if embraced, could kill us.
America needs jobs. And, according to Americans for the Arts, there are more full-time jobs supported by non-profit arts organizations than by accountants and lawyers. In many of our cities, the ICSOM orchestra is the most prominent performing arts organization in the region, and the greater the investment, the greater the return.
The 50th-anniversary 2012 ICSOM Conference is going to be a very special event, honoring the leaders who bravely founded this organization in 1962. While we will arrive in Chicago prepared to celebrate a historic past, our eyes are squarely on the future. Apathy and frustration are our true enemies. We must be inspired to join together at the start of ICSOM’s second half-century with the same enthusiasm that the ICSOM founders harnessed. We must articulate that not only can our orchestras be successful, but that there are reasons they must succeed. Just as the achievements of the past fifty years would not have been possible without ICSOM musicians, neither will the achievements of the next fifty years.
We look forward to meeting with your delegates and other representatives in Chicago, and we look forward as well to sharing the events of the Conference with all of our members.