10 Reasons to Invest in Your Local Arts Agency During a Crisis

Posted by Mr. Randy Cohen, May 26, 2020

Cities are in trouble. A new report by the U.S. Conference of Mayors and National League of Cities—The Economy and Cities: What America’s Local Leaders are Seeing—shows that effectively every city, county, and town in America is expecting a budget shortfall this year. “[The] coronavirus will have a staggering impact on municipal employment,” notes the report, with about half expecting layoffs or furloughs. Depending on population size, 50% to 75% of municipalities will cut public services—and more than half expect that to include police.

With cities facing their most severe budget headwinds in generations, every sector of government can expect to be scrutinized to gauge impact on the community, including the nation’s 4,500 local arts agencies (LAAs).

Local arts agencies—arts councils, arts commissions, cultural affairs departments—lead, cultivate, and support an environment in which arts and culture can thrive. They ensure vibrant and accessible arts experiences for all. LAAs are an essential tool for local leaders as they work to rebuild their economy and promote social cohesion in the wake of COVID-19.

The arts are kindling for the economy—small investments with big returns. They get people out of their homes and spending money. Every time we attend a festival, visit a museum, or see a concert, we spend an average of $31.47 per person beyond the ticket cost on event-related items such as meals, retail, parking, and lodging. This provides vital income to local merchants, energizes our downtowns, promotes visitation to different neighborhoods, and puts people to work.

To capitalize on these benefits, however, communities must continue to invest in their local arts agencies and their professional staff. Local arts agencies are not municipal frills or extras, but rather investments that build healthier communities through the arts.

Do you need to get the message out quickly about the value your local arts agency adds to the community? You can download this “10 Reasons to Invest in Your Local Arts Agency During a Crisis” list as a handy 1-pager here.

10 Reasons to Invest in Your Local Arts Agency During a Crisis 

Local arts agencies—arts councils, arts commissionscultural affairs departments—are an essential tool for community leaders as they rebuild their economies and promote social cohesion in the wake of COVID-19. The nation’s 4,500 local arts agencies (LAAs) support, present, and promote the dynamic value of the arts. Through their partnerships and leadership, LAAs are building healthier communities through the arts in the following ways:

  1. Support a robust jobs sector. Arts and culture is an $878 billion industry in the U.S. (nonprofit, commercial, education)—a larger share of the nation’s economy (4.5%) than transportation, tourism, and agriculture (U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis). The nonprofit arts industry alone generates $166.3 billion in economic activity annually—spending by organizations and their audiences—which supports 4.6 million jobs and generates $27.5 billion in government revenue. One in 10 LAAs are based in the city’s economic development agency.
  1. Drive commerce to local businesses. 72% of Americans attend arts or cultural events, such as the theater, museum, zoo, or a musical performance. Arts attendees spend $31.47 per person, per event, beyond the cost of admission (meals, retail, and lodging)—vital commerce for local businesses. Nationally, total event-related spending by arts audiences is $103 billion. 49% of LAAs partner with their Chamber of Commerce to strengthen local businesses.
  1. Grow the creative economy. 60% of employed adults say that the more creative and innovative they are at their job, the more successful they are in the workplace. Creativity is among the top five applied skills sought by business leaders, per the Conference Board’s Ready to Innovate report (72% say creativity is of high importance when hiring). Engagement in the arts is among the top indicators of creativity. More than one-third of LAAs produce programming that serves the business community (e.g., employee engagement, business volunteers for the arts, artist in residency). 
  1. Promote tourism. As travel restrictions begin to lift, arts travelers are ideal tourists, staying longer and spending more to seek out authentic cultural experiences. 34% of arts attendees live outside the county in which the arts event takes place; they spend an average of $47.57 apiece. 14% of nonlocal attendees had a lodging cost and spent $162 per person. 62% of LAAs partner with their Convention and Tourism Bureaus. 
  1. Unify communitiesThe arts provide shared experiences in public spaces. 72% of Americans believe “the arts unify our communities regardless of age, race, and ethnicity;” 81% of the population says the arts are a “positive experience in a troubled world;” and 73% agree that the arts “helps me understand other cultures better.” More than one-third of LAAs use the arts to address social equity, racial awareness, or civic engagement. 
  1. Partner in education. 76% of LAAs provide arts education programs or services in the community. Students with an arts education have higher GPAs, standardized test scores, and more college-going as well as lower drop-out rates. These academic benefits are reaped by students regardless of socio-economic status. 
  1. Improve civic pride. Public art enhances the identity and character of the community and promotes tourism, which attracts and retains new economy workers and businesses. 70% of Americans believe that the “arts improve the image and identity” of their community. 54% of LAAs manage a public art program. 
  1. Support the health and well-being of the military. The arts heal the mental, physical, and moral injuries of war for military servicemembers and Veterans as well as aid in their reintegration into the community. Creative arts therapies are consistently ranked in the top four (out of 40) interventions and treatments for effectiveness. 26% of LAAs engage with military or Veteran constituencies in their community. 
  1. Promote healthy communities. 21% of LAAs use the arts to address physical and mental health issues in their community. Nearly one-half of the nation’s hospitals provide arts programming for patients, families, and staff because of their healing benefits to patients—shorter hospital stays, better pain management, and less medication. 73% of the population feels the arts give them “pure pleasure to experience and participate in.”
  1. Build social cohesion. University of Pennsylvania researchers have demonstrated that a high concentration of the arts in a city leads to higher civic engagement, more social cohesion, higher child welfare, and lower poverty rates. 67% of LAAs are delivering artistic content to raise community spirits and morale and strengthen community cohesion during the COVID-19 crisis.