Monday, July 2, 2012

Arts groups nourish pocketbooks, not just souls

Despite pulling back because of the recession, Charlotte's cultural groups are the engine behind $200 million a year in economic activity that supports more than 6,000 jobs, a study by a national arts group says.  

Americans for the Arts, which looks every five years at cultural groups and their economic impact nationwide, recently released its fourth report, based on information from 2010. In Mecklenburg -- one of 182 areas it studied -- the number-crunchers worked with information from 73 nonprofit cultural groups and 740 audience members who filled out questionnaires. 

To gauge the ripple effects as the money moved out from there, the analysts used an economic model tailored to Mecklenburg by economists from Georgia Tech. A few of the headline findings: 

  • The cultural groups' spending drove $101 million in economic activity. 
  • Spending by the groups' audiences generated another $101 million. 
  • People coming from outside Mecklenburg County to see cultural events made up about 40 percent of audiences. 
  • Those out-of-towners spent an average of $41.58 per person -- not including the ticket price -- on food, drink, souvenirs, parking and such. 
  • The groups' and audiences' spending ultimately yielded $8.4 million in tax revenues for local government and $9.8 million in taxes to the state.  
Statistics are sometimes hard to relate to, of course. And my impression is that, in Charlotte, economic-impact studies have gotten a bad name because of disputed analyses of roads and other subjects. So, for the purposes of a story about the report, I'm gathering real-life examples of where arts groups' money goes. I think that will be more tangible. 

For the moment, here's one example: Children's Theatre of Charlotte last season spent  $97,000 with Mecklenburg businesses on lumber, paint, fabrics and other raw material for sets and costumes, said Linda Reynolds, the theater's managing director for development, marketing and sales. That's part of about $360,000 the theater spend with Mecklenburg vendors. 

"It's insurance. It's printing. It's design work," Reynolds said. "It's important for people to understand. We're shopping the same places they are, in some cases."