Comparing itself to other cities is a favorite activity of Charlotte's, and a nationwide study about the economic impact of the arts could provide plenty of fodder.
Charlotte is one of 182 cities, counties and other areas analyzed in "Arts and Economic Prosperity," a new report by Americans for the Arts. The study, based on 2010 and 2011 data, aims to calculate the ripple effects as the spending by cultural groups and their audiences moves through the local economy of each area.
In North Carolina, the report looks at 16 counties, one city -- Cary -- and the state overall. Here are a few tidbits and perspectives beyond what we had in the Observer's story about the Mecklenburg results:
- The arts community in Mecklenburg had the most economic effect of that in any N.C. county: $202 million. That was split roughly evenly between the impact of the groups' spending and that of their audiences. The runner-up, not surprisingly, was Wake County, whose population is about 15,000 people smaller. The arts' total impact in Wake was $166,228,401, with the cultural groups responsible for a little more than half.
- Durham County's arts community deserves credit for punching above its weight. The county's population of 269,706 is less than a third of Mecklenburg's 913,639. Yet its arts groups (separate from their audiences) had nearly three-fourths the economic impact: $74,120,175 to Mecklenburg groups' $101,177,294. It no doubt helped that in Durham, 56 of 84 eligible groups answered the study's questionnaires -- compared to 73 of about 200 eligible groups in Meck. Adding the spending of Durham's audiences, the arts' total economic impact came to $125,534,858. The presence of Duke University and Research Triangle Park, along with the highly educated people attached to them, must be a factor.
- Because of the different response rates to questionnaires noted above, comparisons are dicey, strictly speaking. Nevertheless, is isn't unreasonable to look at the numbers as broadly a proxy for the size of the arts communities. In that case, if you take the Triangle area as a whole -- which is plausible, since people in Raleigh, Durham and thereabouts can so easily circulate among cities for events -- then its arts community eclipses Mecklenburg's. That isn't really shocking, anyhow. Raleigh has cultural groups of statewide scope, such as the North Carolina Museum of Art and the North Carolina Symphony. Durham has several weeks of the American Dance Festival each summer.
- Did you know that the population of the city and county of San Francisco is smaller than Mecklenburg's by nearly 100,000? That was news to me. San Francisco is the heart of a huge metropolitan area, of course. So, get a load of the arts' economic impact out there: The cultural groups drove $472,127,310 in activity; their audiences, $237,851,931. The total, as you can see, was nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars.
- But look at another place that's smaller: Indianapolis. Its population is about 100,000 less than Mecklenburg's. But the arts' impact was almost double: a total of $384,244,432 between the groups and their audiences. Indianapolis is the state's capital and dominant city, of course. Also, I've heard it said for years that the city's big homegrown business, the Ely Lilly drug company, spawned philanthropic foundations by family members that have been a blessing for the arts. But I've never seen the specifics laid out.
- Here's one thing Charlotte can lay claim to: Its arts events bring in a bigger percentage of out-of-towners than those in most places. The study found that most area's audiences were 32 percent from outside, but Mecklenburg's groups drew 40 percent from beyond. Remember to thank them for their dollars.