Arts, Culture, and Entertainment: Vital Sectors to Restarting Your Economy

While you are struggling with decisions on reopening your city, balancing public health and the economy, the arts can be your secret asset.

By Jay Dick, Americans for the Arts | Aug 19, 2020 | BLOG POST
poster for coronavirus project
We Keep Each Other Safe by Monica Trinidad. Contribute to and download this and other free COVID-19 related art at coverthewallswithhope.weebly.com

While you are struggling with decisions on how to restart your economy, the arts can be your secret asset. Your residents, most of whom have spent the vast majority of time over the past few months in their homes, will be ready to explore and reengage with the outside world.  The arts, culture, and entertainment sector will play a fundamental role in facilitating the return and jumpstarting your economy safely. This article won’t address the “how” and “when” to reopen but will offer guidance on ways to kickstart your community and its economy when the time is right.  

As we plan for a healthy return, getting people out of their houses and spending money again will be key to jumpstarting the economy (70% of the U.S. economy is consumer spending). This is what the arts do. They create social and economic opportunities—attending a festival, visiting a museum, going to the theater, seeing a concert—and every time that attendee will spend an average of $31.47 beyond the ticket cost. And while this may look different in the future, this provides income to local businesses, energizes our downtowns, promotes visitation to different neighborhoods, and puts people to work. Total event-related spending nationally in 2015 was $103 billion and supported more than two million jobs!

But right now, two-thirds of the nation’s artists are estimated to be unemployed.  According to our survey with over 17,800 respondents, national financial losses to nonprofit arts organizations in your cities are estimated to be $10.7 billion, to date. The economic impact of these losses is $3.5 billion in lost government revenue and 609,000 jobs no longer being supported. The survey found that 10% of responding organizations are “not confident” that they will survive the COVID-19 pandemic (a potential loss of 12,000 organizations).

What Can You Do Now?   

Embrace your arts, culture, and entertainment sector now! Here's how:

  1. Make sure you have members from the arts, culture, and entertainment industry on any COVID-19 task force.  These artists or arts organization managers are in close touch with the sector and know what strengths and resources they possess that can be used when your economy opens.    

  1. If your city provides funding for the sector, don’t cut it, no matter how tempted you are. Keeping a healthy arts, culture, and entertainment sector will pay off in huge dividends once you open back up.   According to our Arts and Economic Prosperity 5 Study, the nonprofit arts alone is a $166 billion a year industry that generates over $27.5 billion dollars in revenue for city/county and state governments. 

  2. Use the arts to help convey the need for safety and as a way to communicate the message with residents in an upbeat manner. People are more likely to listen to (and believe) information that is presented in a creative manner. Use your arts sector to help craft and get the information out to your residents.   

  3. Long term, make the arts part of your core strategic and economic plan.  Few cities truly harness the full benefits of their arts assets.  Have the arts as part of your senior planning and design team to reap the benefits arts can bring to your processes from the beginning, and not just as an afterthought.  

Leading Practices

The Arts Council for Long Beach, California, has created “Keep Arts Working,” a series of events and art commissions that seeks to illuminate the vital work being done amid the COVID-19 pandemic response, alleviate anxiety from our minds and bodies through the arts, and begin to recuperate the creative economy. Each week, the Arts Council hosts nightly arts engagements with artists of various genres and is committed to do this work during the “stay at home” order. The engagements are broadcast on the Arts Council social media pages. 

In Clark County, Nevada (Las Vegas), the ArtSpark initiative is seeking $300,000 in Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) funding to launch a three-pronged approach to help the cultural workforce prepare for a new future.  This transformation would be done through information-sharing, ongoing training and technical assistance, and new opportunities to put artists and organizations back to work.  Using the public money as a lever, ArtSpark will reach out to businesses and foundations to establish a cooperative public-private partnership to keep the momentum and program funding going.  The project is a cooperative venture with KNPR Public Radio Station, which will serve as the fiscal sponsor for the first wave of ArtSpark. 

In Guilford County, North Carolina (Greensboro), county commissioners allotted $500,000 for grants to local arts groups affected by the pandemic.  This is approximately $1 per capita and represents a substantial investment in the arts and culture.   

In the city of Phoenix, Arizona, the council has approved using $2.6 million in federal Coronavirus Relief Funding to help artists, along with nonprofit arts and culture organizations, hurting financially because of the global health emergency.  The funding will provide local artists with grants up to $1,500 whose income was lost due to performances, shows, contracts, and sales being canceled or terminated since March 1. In the Phoenix area, it is predicted that arts and culture organizations will lose between $10,000 and $1 million.   “This vote represents one of the largest municipal investments in the arts sector nationwide–and it is a smart investment” said Mayor Kate Gallego. “The Phoenix arts and culture sector generates over $400 million annually. When the arts are supported, our quality of life improves and our local economy benefits.”  

In Closing

Making small investments in the arts now is going to pay big dividends later, in the form of a stronger economy and greater social cohesion.  Cities that lean into the arts to help their people emerge from their homes will see their economy jump forward, while other cities might take months or even years to regain what was lost. 

As a city leader, work with your arts organizations now to brainstorm how they can provide programming to your residents not only while we are still self-isolating but after the restrictions are lifted.  For example, ask yourself: How can the arts help with the emotional wellbeing of my residents? How can they facilitate getting people out of their homes once it is safe? How can new revenue streams be rethought to make the arts sector even stronger, and thus more valuable to my community?


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