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Research and Resources

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

Local arts agencies—arts councils, arts commissions, cultural 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. 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.
  5. Unify communities. The 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.”
  10. 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.

Download the "10 Reasons to Invest in Your Local Arts Agency During a Crisis" One Pager

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Seven Easy Ways for Your Voice to be Heard:

  1. Face-to-face meetings
  2. Letters, emails
  3. Phone calls
  4. Special events and town hall meetings
  5. Print and electronic news media
  6. Coalitions and partnerships
  7. Testify at hearings

Use this opportunity to showcase your role in the community, and the broader impact of the arts and culture sector on your community and vital role it will play in the recovery and rebuilding phase.

  • Examine your platforms and support networks. Do you have an active board? A strong social media presence? Partners that can support your campaign? What are their strong connections to decision makers? In addition to crowded council chambers and personal communiqués to key government officials, get your community leaders (e.g., business executives, school administrators, community foundation) to testify at hearings, make personal calls, or support a social media campaign. Their voice lends credibility and weight to your cause.
  • Draft a communication plan. It doesn't have to be complicated. There likely isn't time for a complex plan but having a simple plan will be helpful in keeping everyone on the same message. Think of all the communcation platforms that are going to be helpful - social media? email? petition? demonstration? speaking at council meetings? Take note of all the options and prioritize them based on the amount of time you have available.
  • Speak about your best strength. Focus your efforts on the top things that resonate with your community leaders - tourism, workforce development, community cohesion, rebuilding and growth. It is vital to center the importance of the unique role your agency plays and what would be missing if your agency was defunded or eliminated.
  • Specific Artists/Treasures. Each community, no matter what size or where, has its own artists and treasured cultural organizations. Each community has its own important patrons and supportive elected officials, its own local heroes for the arts. This can be an opportunity to enlist them in support of your agency.


Get your message clear!

You have many options about which case making strategies to lead with: quality of life, economic impact, tourism, education, and workforce and business development. You are in the strongest position if you can speak nimbly about as many benefits that the arts bring to the community as possible. In challenging times like these, you want your quiver packed with arrows.

We are in an economic downturn not seen in generations, and many of us need to prepare for possible reductions in arts funding. We are encouraging a message of "proportional cuts," however, and not draconian. It is not okay to cut the arts budget 40 percent while other agencies receive only 20 percent cuts.

When meeting with decision-makers, keep in mind the following:

BRIEF: A legislator's time is limited.

STRATEGIC: Research information about previous positions, voting records, and legislative and policy goals. Establish as many connections as possible between you and the decision-maker.

SPECIFIC: State the clear purpose and timeliness of your visit or communication.

INFORMATIVE: Give clear, local examples of why the measure should be supported or a proposed funding cut rescinded.

BOLD: Ask for a particular action.

LISTEN: Give the decision-maker a meaningful opportunity to state his/her position so you can begin a dialogue.

RESPECTFUL: Maintain a good working relationship regardless of outcomes. Do not treat meetings as a one-time opportunity; revisit issues on a regular basis. Become an information resource and cultural liaison to the decision-maker.

APPRECIATIVE: Acknowledge past support and always say thank you!