Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Cultural Revolution

In tight economic times, funding for The Arts is often seen as a frivolous extra that cannot be justified as a community attempts to tighten its belt yet another notch. Less money means tough decisions and then next thing you know it's Roll Over, Beethoven, Papa's got a brand new bag of past-due bills.

In light of the current fiscal difficulties here in Michigan, it is especially encouraging to see local communities step up to the plate in support of the arts. Last week it was announced that The City of East Lansing planned to assist arts-based businesses and it also pledged to make a donation to the new art museum planned at Michigan State University.

"We are excited to help in bringing a stronger art presence to a central location along Grand River Avenue," Mayor Sam Singh said.

This is a win-win situation on many fronts.

Studies have shown that the arts play a vital role in any community, and far from being an impracticality, they have proven themselves exactly where many nay-sayers look first: the bottom line. According to the study Arts & Economic Prosperity III: The Economic Impact of Nonprofit Arts and Culture Organizations and Their Audiences the arts provide an important and substantial source of revenue.

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.

The $166.2 billion in total economic activity has a significant national impact, generating the following:

  • 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

And as much as we love to quote dollars and cents, there is an important word in this report -- easily overlooked, maybe -- but is critical to reshaping the opinion of the arts and its importance in a community. That word is Industry.

This report speaks of the Arts and Culture INDUSTRY.

I've lived and breathed the arts all my life, and even I have never thought of it as an industry. But looking at all the statistics, that's exactly what it is: an industry. And yet the arts provide so much more. Certainly they are a boost to the employment sector, to national and local tax bases and to tourism. But they also improve the quality of life which in turn builds and strengthens any community. All you have to do is look at the amazing transformation of Lansing's Old Town. Between the diverse music festivals held in the heart of the community and the many local artisans who now call Old Town home, community pride is swelling and this eclectic corner of The Capitol City is enjoying a true Renaissance.

In addition to the obvious financial benefit, The City of East Lansing will win major goodwill points with the MSU community. It's easy to focus on the many problems that arise between the city and the university, and this collaboration provides an excellent opportunity for both sides to work together and build strong bonds able to bridge the great divide known as Grand River Avenue.

So bravo, East Lansing! It's encouraging to see a City willing to invest in the culture industry today, knowing there will be a rich payoff tomorrow. An increase of arts in any community doesn't only make dollars. It makes sense.

Pass the waffles.

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