Local leaders from various arts organizations and businesses gathered at Lewes Public Library Nov. 14 to discuss the correlation between art and the Delaware economy. The presentation, led by Paul Weagraff of the Delaware Division of the Arts, outlined the findings of a study which shows the economic advantages nonprofit art organizations provide.
”More and more the arts are having to make a case for themselves beyond ‘the arts are good for us,'” Weagraff said. Weagraff is speaking of the enrichment which arts provide, the added quality of life and the importance of arts in education. However, this study provided data which may have fiscal conservatives in support of efforts sometimes misconceived as frivolous.
The study, titled Arts and Economic Prosperity IV, was conducted by the Americans for the Arts, an umbrella organization which supports and represents all forms of art organizations and was the fourth of its kind, collecting data throughout fiscal year 2010 and calendar year 2011.
The study gathered data from 182 groups across the nation, representing all 50 states. These groups included cities, counties and, as was the case for Delaware, entire states.
For Delaware, nonprofit arts organizations represent a $142 million industry, support almost 3,900 jobs, making the industry in the top 10 for Delaware employers, and generates almost $10 million in local and state revenue, Weagraff said.
The DAA argues that these estimates are conservative figures. Only 60 percent of non-profit art organizations participated in the study.
“We can argue that the impact is greater than what we present to you tonight,” Weagraff said. Add to that the fact that it did not include forprofit organizations, e.g. commercial cinemas and theaters, so the real figures are likely much greater.
Another aspect of the arts’ impact on the economy came from audience intercept surveys which were distributed at various events, performances and museums. The survey inquired where the subject came from (by ZIP code), how many were in their party and how much they spent in association with the event.
“How much did you spend on the meal, the dinner out before or after, the babysitter you paid for, parking or gas?” Weagraff said, rattling off the additional costs associated with an evening out.
The survey also inquired as to whether or not the participant would look somewhere else if this event weren’t happening in that area. Weagraff said, “By and large, the answer is yes. It is important to support those activities close to home.”
The audience members are not the only ones contributing to the local economy; the arts organizations also contribute. Take, for example, a local theater which is planning to perform a play. The stage crew would go to a local hardware store to purchase lumber and paint to build the set. This benefits the worker at the hardware store who receives their money and spends it at the local supermarket. This is just one of the ways local art organizations help the local economy.
“The metrics used to come up with this information have won two different Nobel Prizes in economics,” Weagraff said. These metrics are tailor-made for the region based on an analysis of the business structure of the area. The metrics determine the exact figures in how the money remains in the local economy before inevitably moving out, but every contribution which keeps the money here a little longer strengthens the local economy.
Local and state governing bodies also benefit from these local arts organizations. Weagraff said for the 60 percent of nonprofits that participated in the study, the state made roughly $7 million annually in income tax from employees and franchise tax from the organizations; the local government made almost $3 million annually.
“That’s where this kind of economic impact study is valuable to us in making a case,” Weagraff said, adding, “I never say it costs the state money to support the arts; it is an investment which has a demonstrated return.”
The DAA and the groups present at the meeting will have to determine how to appeal to the business side of the rest of the county to match the beach area’s penchant for the arts.
Karen Duffield, executive director of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce, brought up the fact that Georgetown has a number of venues which could accommodate events, and Jenna Beard of Southern Delaware Tourism suggested the potential of social media in networking and spreading the word.
These issues will be taken up at the next meeting which is tentatively scheduled for January.