Arts’ economic impact nearly tripled in five years

story by Jamie Smith
jsmith@thecitywire.com

FAYETTEVILLE—The non-profit arts and culture industry has nearly tripled its economic impact on Northwest Arkansas, according to a report released Wednesday (Oct. 10).

The Arts & Economic Prosperity Study IV conducted by Americans for the Arts in 182 regions across the country accumulated economic data and included surveys of arts consumers to develop an overall view of the arts and culture industry’s economic impact on the given regions. The last study was in 2005 and the most recent study looks at 2010 economic figures.

In Northwest Arkansas, the Walton Arts Center headed up the research process and it involved 25 participating organizations ranging from art museums to theater groups. The WAC, NWA Council and the Bentonville/Bella Vista Chamber of Commerce co-funded the study in the region, which was considered to be Benton and Washington counties.

“We’ve always known the arts add to our quality of life, but these findings tell the story about how a vibrant arts community stimulates the local economy,” said Walton Arts Center President/CEO Peter Lane. “Arts and culture is a growth industry in Northwest Arkansas proven through the arrival of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and the vision to expand Walton Arts Center, Rogers Historical Museum, Children’s Museum of Northwest Arkansas and other cultural institutions. Adding arts and culture in our region creates more jobs, attracts more tourists and pumps more revenue back into our local economy.”

RESILIENT SECTOR
Findings from the study include:
• State and local revenue from the arts and culture industry was $4 million in 2010 compared to $1.5 million in 2005;
• Full-time equivalent jobs were 1,488 in 2010 compared to 500 in 2005; and,
• There is a $46 million total economic impact in 2010 compared to $16 million in 2005.

“This shows that (the industry) was resilient in tough economic times and is poised for growth,” said Beth Bobbitt, public relations manager for the Walton Arts Center.

Northwest Arkansas also shined in comparison to many of the other 181 regions participating in the study. In comparison to NWA’s 1,488 jobs in 2010, the median of similar study regions was 877 jobs and the total economic impact in those regions was $41 million compared to NWA’s $46 million. The state and local revenue matched at $4 million.

NWA TOURISM AND GROWTH
This study is more than just a proverbial pat on the back for the arts and culture industry. The economic impact directly correlates to tourism and growth in the region.

For example, the study shows that local arts audiences spend an average of $20 above the cost of each ticket when they attend an arts and cultural event, while tourists spend an additional $36. This includes dining out before or after the event, purchasing clothes for the event and for out-of-towners, renting hotel rooms.

Also according to the study, 76% of tourists who completed a study at an arts activity said their trip was made specifically because of the event and 67% said they would have gone to another community to attend the same event instead of coming to NWA if the event had been held elsewhere.

Having a strong local arts and culture industry is also important for brining other businesses to the area, said Mike Malone, president/CEO OF the Northwest Arkansas Council. “We at the NWA Council are mostly focused on infrastructure like highways but the need is so much more than hard infrastructure. There is a need for social and cultural infrastructure.”

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT ASSET
When companies look at locating in Northwest Arkansas, they want to know about the region’s economy and quality of life features that would be offered to employees, Malone explained. Having a strong arts and culture sector enhances that quality of life, therefore enhancing the chances that a company might locate to the area.

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“All this matters greatly to our region,” Malone said.

There was also discussion of growth in the industry both in recent months and in the future. The addition of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (opened November 2011) brings jobs both for that museum and an influx of art galleries in the area. Initial estimates were that it would see about a quarter of a million visitors the first year but in less than a year, it’s seen double that amount, said Kalene Griffith, president/CEO of the Bentonville Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The Walton Arts Center is also planning an expansion at its Fayetteville campus and establishing a Benton County presence, Bobbitt and Griffith said.

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