Monday, January 11, 2010

If the Arts Are Such An Economic Driver, Why Is It So Difficult To Obtain Support?

All of us have seen the studies and reports:

Nationally, the nonprofit arts and culture industry generates $166.2 billion in economic activity every year—$63.1 billion in spending by organizations and an additional $103.1 billion in event-related spending by their audiences. Additionally the nonprofit arts and culture industry provides:

  • 5.7 million full-time equivalent jobs
  • $104.2 billion in household income
  • $7.9 billion in local government tax revenues
  • $9.1 billion in state government tax revenues
  • $12.6 billion in federal income tax revenues
(Source: “ARTS & ECONOMIC PROSPERITY III” – Americans for the Arts)

In North Carolina, the creative industries contributed more than $3.9 billion in wages to the state economy and employed over 159,000 people.
(Source: “Creative Economy: The Arts Industry in North Carolina” – NC Arts Council)

The craft industry in the 25 counties of Western North Carolina provides an annual economic impact of over $206 million per year.
(Source: “ECONOMIC IMPACT of the Professional Craft Industry of Western North Carolina” – Handmade in America)

“Arts and culture are important to state economies. Arts and culture-related industries, also known as ‘creative industries,’ provide direct economic benefits to states and communities: They create jobs, attract investments, generate tax revenues, and stimulate local economies through tourism and consumer purchases.”
(Source: “ARTS & the ECONOMY – Using Arts and Culture to Stimulate State Economic Development" National Governors Association)

I don’t think there is any argument that the “creative industry” is in fact a significant economic driver… at the national, state and local level. If that is the case, why then is it so difficult to get support (not just financial) at all levels of government and from many parts of the private sector? I believe there are a number of reasons for this “disconnect”.

One reason is confusion in defining what is being measured… in other words, what is this “industry”. Is it the broadly defined “creative industry” or is it “arts”, “cultural”, “crafts” or other identifiers? Is it both non-profit and for profit organizations? Is it individuals and corporations? When you talk about the “bio-tech” industry… most folks have a fairly good idea of what it is, even though it covers a very broad range of activities.

A second reason for the “disconnect” is a lack of unity because of the "industry's" great diversity. While there are many organizations that represent various aspect of the “creative industry”, there is no broad “over riding” group or organization. Back to “bio tech”… there is the Biotechnology Industry Organization as well as the local, state and national Chambers of Commerce that represent virtually all biotech companies on a variety of topics and issues.

I believe there is a third reason for the “disconnect” and that is while there are a number of very good plans and strategies for certain segments of this “creative industry”, there is no single “plan” or “strategy” for the over all “creative industry”.

So what should we do about all of this? We know that our current economic situation is certainly not going to allow for significant additional funding or growth in virtually all areas of our society. However, it does not preclude us from doing the planning for the future. An effort like this must be a “tops down” effort. With forward thinking folks like our current Secretary of Cultural Affairs, Linda Carlisle and our Secretary of Commerce, J. Keith Crisco, I believe now is the time to address this opportunity on a statewide basis. I believe a good starting point is the National Governor’s Association’s recent paper, “ARTS & the ECONOMY – Using Arts and Culture to Stimulate State Economic Development" (

Additionally, we can certainly learn from the experience of others… Austin and the state of Texas, Arizona, Portland, Oregon and others. If we are going to truly benefit from the fact that the Creative Industry is an Economic Driver, it is up to us in the industry to lead the way.

Phil Atwood
Asheville, North Carolina

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