Opinion: The arts mean business in the Valley of the Sun

What do a violinist, accountant, museum curator and waiter have in common?

Dr. Susan Pepin

They all earn money from the Valley’s thriving arts industry.

When we talk about arts and culture in the Phoenix metro area, we typically describe how they bring us joy, beautify our downtowns and neighborhoods, and make us feel creative.
A new research study conducted by Americans for the Arts in partnership with the Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture, the City of Mesa and seven West Valley communities is expanding that conversation about the arts — from one of “the arts improve quality of life” to one of “arts are an industry.”

The Valley communities were among 341 regions across all 50 states that participated in Arts & Economic Prosperity 5, a national study about the economic impact of nonprofit arts and cultural organizations and their audiences.

Who are these cultural and business organizations? They range from the Phoenix Symphony and Heard Museum to the East Valley Children’s Theatre and the Del E. Webb Center for the Performing Arts in Wickenburg.

By every measure, the results are impressive.

The nonprofit arts industry in Phoenix generated $401.8 million of economic activity in 2015 — $164.6 million in spending by arts and cultural organizations and an additional $237.2 in event-related expenditures by their audiences. This economic activity supported 12,815 jobs locally. The arts also generated $44.5 million in revenue to local and state government.

In Mesa, total spending was $29.6 million ($16.8 million by organizations, $12.8 million by audiences) that supported 1,024 jobs. Nonprofit arts and cultural organizations in West Valley communities of Avondale, Glendale, Goodyear, Litchfield Park, Peoria, Surprise and Wickenburg spent $22.9 million and their audiences added $9.8 million to support 758 fulltime jobs.

Yes, the arts are a jobs industry. They not only employ musicians, dancers, and curators, but also accountants, electricians and web designers. That colorful program you receive at every performance has to be written, designed, and printed—more local jobs.

The arts are not just food for the soul. They also put food on the table in nearly 13,000 households in Phoenix alone. That is more jobs than the highly valued regional employment at either Intel or Americans Airlines.

The economic benefits don’t end there. Unlike most industries, the arts generate millions in audience spending. When we attend an arts event, we may pay for parking, eat dinner at a restaurant, enjoy dessert after the show and return home to pay the babysitter.

Randy Cohen

The study found that the typical Phoenix arts attendee spends $34.80 per person, per event beyond the cost of admission—an amount higher than the national average of $31.47. If you are a restaurateur, hotel, or retailer, this is a whole different kind of music to your ears!

The Phoenix study shows that the arts are a tourism driver. One of every five attendees was from outside Maricopa County. Their event-related spending was more than twice as much ($68.80 per person) than what residents spend.

What brought those visitors to town? Forty-six percent of Mesa non-resident respondents indicated that the primary purpose for their visit was to attend that arts event.

The message is clear: a vibrant arts community not only keeps residents and their discretionary spending close to home, it also attracts visitors who spend money and help local businesses thrive.

When asked what they would have done if the arts event they were attending was not taking place, more than half the attendees in both Mesa and the West Valley said they would have traveled to a different community to attend a similar arts event.

This research validates our communities’ investment in the arts. When we fund our local arts organizations, the public’s dollars provide all of us with both cultural and economic benefits, and help make arts and culture experiences available and accessible to all of our citizens.

No longer do community leaders need to feel that a choice must be made between arts funding and economic prosperity. The arts mean business.

Dr. Sue Pepin is President and CEO of Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust. She can be reached at spepin@pipertrust.org or@SPPiperTrust. Randy Cohen is Vice President of Research and Policy at Americans for the Arts. He can be reached at @ArtsInfoGuy.




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