The Gazette Editorial Board
Arts groups in 11 Eastern Iowa counties generate nearly $80 million in economic activity in those communities, according to a new study conducted by Americans for the Arts.
They support 2,761 full-time jobs and generate $7.4 million in local and state government revenues, the study found.
Those figures are interesting to note, and may come as a surprise to some who haven’t thought about how cultural enrichment also can enrich local coffers.
But we’re wary of casting arts organizations as just another cog in our economic engine.
The numbers are nice, but it’s important to remember that arts groups’ primary benefit is still how they impact our quality of life and help to draw and retain creative, talented people to our communities.
The challenge is to foster support and understanding of our artistic organizations on their own merits, not based solely on whatever contribution they might make to our bottom line.
Support for the arts must be more than a numbers game.
There’s more good news unveiled in recently released Arts & Economic Prosperity IV study: Local arts groups appear to have successfully weathered the floods of 2008, which directly affected some venues — such as Theatre Cedar Rapids, Hancher Auditorium and Riverside Shakespeare Theatre Co. in Iowa City — and indirectly affected many more.
According to the study, despite that catastrophic event, the economic impact of our region’s non-profit arts and cultural organizations grew from just over $63 million in fiscal 2005 to $79.8 million in fiscal 2010. It’s good to see the cultural scene not only has rebounded, but is thriving.
The study reminds us that money spent directly on the arts is only part of the story. Ticket money funds support staff as well as performers. Even nearby businesses feel a boost.
Restaurants, gas stations, parking garages — all benefit from an active arts scene.
But harder to quantify is the enormous impact the arts have on our communities’ quality of life — the ways they enrich our experiences and help define who we are.
It’s important to value that contribution, too.
Local businesses like to show off our cultural landmarks when recruiting bright young professionals, and well they should. Support for arts and cultural groups says a lot about the richness of what a community has to offer. It isn’t always about the bottom line.
So we’re glad to see local arts groups being recognized for making Aa significant contribution to our local economy, so long as we keep the figures in perspective.
The dollars they circulate in our economy are only one way those groups add value to our communities and our lives.
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