Cultures Bottom Line

The arts ennoble the human spirit - and bring in the big bucks

February 3, 2008

This is the sort of noble sentiment that excites artists and philosophers, as expressed by Jonathan Fanton, president of the MacArthur Foundation, a generous funder of the arts:

The arts deepen our understanding of the human spirit, extend our capacity to comprehend the lives of others, allow us to imagine a more just and humane world. Through their diversity of feeling, their variety of forms, their multiplicity of inspiration, the arts make our culture richer and more reflective.

This is the sort of hard data that excites politicians, business executives and other community leaders:

Nationally, the 100,000 organizations that make up the American nonprofit arts-and-culture industry are responsible for $166.2 billion in economic activity each year a figure larger than the combined gross domestic products of Kuwait, Vietnam and Kenya. Nonprofit arts groups support 5.7 million jobs and generate nearly $30 billion in annual taxes to local, state and federal governments.

In the Capital Region, approximately 170 arts nonprofits from behemoths like Proctors in Schenectady to the Print Club of Albany, with an annual budget one-third the size of Proctors’ CEO’s salary spend more than $70 million per year, resulting in an economic benefit to our area of $154 million. (The Empire State Development Corp. defines the Capital Region Economic Development Region as being comprised of Warren, Washington, Saratoga, Schenectady, Rensselaer, Albany, Columbia and Greene counties.)

Audiences for local arts nonprofits total more than 3 million annually, a Times Union calculation based on information gathered from a variety of published sources and original reporting.

Those arts patrons spend money an average of $27.79 per person above the cost of admission, on purchases including meals, lodging and souvenirs. That figure is contained in Arts & Economic Prosperity III, a landmark study published last May by the advocacy organization Americans for the Arts.

Leaders who care about community and economic development can feel good about choosing to invest in the arts, writes Robert L. Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts, in the introduction to the study.

Expanding media

We’re currently in between the unveilings of the Capital Region’s two biggest arts investments in decades. Coming a year apart and on opposite sides of the region, the $30 million expansion of Proctors in Schenectady into a multitheater performing-arts complex and the $155 million Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy are financially emphatic and physically impressive bookends to a busy year in the arts. During 2008, leading up to and beyond EMPAC’s opening in October, the Times Union’s ArtsEvents section will chronicle the regional arts scene’s growth and changes in a series of stories, beginning today with a look at the economic impact of the arts.

Arts & Economic Prosperity III gathered detailed information from 6,080 nonprofit arts and culture organizations in 156 study regions (cities, counties, multicounty regions and whole states) for the fullest portrait ever developed of the arts economy in the United States. In addition to its estimate that the arts have an economic effect of $166.2 billion per year, the report found:

  • Arts organizations’ spending grew from $36.8 billion in 1992 to $63.1 billion in 2005.
  • Jobs supported by nonprofit arts account for 1.01 percent of the nation’s work force more than police officers, lawyers and postal carriers combined.
  • Governments, which give $4 billion worth of support per year to the arts, get about $30 billion back in taxes, a return rate of 7.5-to-1.

New York state’s approximately 2,600 arts nonprofits have an economic impact of $7.7 billion and support 55,000-plus jobs, according to Arts as an Industry, a study, released in December 2006, that analyzed arts, entertainment and culture throughout New York. Conducted and published by the advocacy group Alliance for the Arts, the report offers big-picture as well as close-focus views.

The Arts as an Industry section on the Capital Region identifies 169 nonprofit arts organizations in the eight-county area and reports they spent a combined $69.9 million in 2004. About a quarter of the region’s arts nonprofits organizations are in Albany, with smaller concentrations in Saratoga Springs, Schenectady, Troy, Hudson and Glens Falls. Combined, the organizations in the six cities are responsible for 82 percent of the total spending by arts nonprofits.

The Albany County Convention & Visitors Bureau is keenly aware of the marketing value of the arts as a way to lure tourists to the Capital Region. The 21 arts organizations or venues contacted by the bureau for its annual attendance survey which included the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, curiously, but not SPAC or Proctors attracted 1.87 million visitors in 2007, from 2,073 to the Shaker Museum and Library in Old Chatham to 722,839 to the State Museum in Albany.

Wooing employers

The arts are also integral to the way a region woos employers considering relocating here, according to Chuck Steiner, president of the Schenectady County chamber of commerce.

The arts and culture offerings are a critical piece to the overall fabric that we provide to businesses looking to come to the region, Steiner says. We know (Proctors) is big business for us by itself, and it’s also an important quality-of-life consideration for other businesses and their employees.

At the end of Arts & Economic Prosperity III the authors write, This study lays to rest a common misconception: that communities support arts and culture at the expense of local economic development. In fact, communities are investing in an industry that supports jobs, generates government revenue, and is the cornerstone of tourism. This report shows conclusively that, locally as well as nationally, the arts mean business.

THE NUMBERS: Below are annual budgets and annual attendance figures for a dozen arts and culture nonprofits in the Capital Region with budgets of about $1 million or higher, in descending order of budget size:

State Museum, Albany
Annual operating budget: $28 million
Annual attendance: 773,400
Proctors, Schenectady
Budget: $12 million
Attendance: 500,000
Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs
Budget: $8.8 million
Attendance: 300,000
New York State Theatre Institute, Troy
Budget: $2.7 million
Attendance: 60,000
Capital Repertory Theatre, Albany
Budget: $2.6 million
Attendance: 78,000
Albany Institute of History & Art
Budget: $2.2 million
Attendance: 50,000
Albany Symphony Orchestra, Albany
Budget: $2 million
Attendance: 22,050
The Egg
Budget: $2 million
Attendance: 70,000
Palace Theatre, Albany
Budget: $1.2 million
Attendance: 200,000
Schenectady Museum, Schenectady
Budget: $1.1 million
Attendance: 41,000
Arts Center of the Capital Region, Troy
Budget: $1.1 million
Attendance: 30,000
Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Troy
Budget: $900,000
Attendance: 37,500

Steve Barnes can be reached at 454-5489 or by e-mail at sbarnes@timesunion.com.

Written by Steve Barnes.
Article © the Times Union. All Rights Reserved.