Arts Can Have Big Economic Impact, Study Hopes to Show

The Regional Arts Commission is partnering with Americans for the Arts to quantify the economic impact of the arts

click to enlarge Fox Theatre's Hadestown
Kevin Berne
Productions such as the Fox Theatre's Hadestown can have big economic impacts, a new study hopes to show.

The arts have a real, though often unquantifiable, impact on the lives of those in the greater St. Louis region. A new study, however, seeks to quantify the economic impact of the arts industry.

This week, the Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis announced that it was partnering with national arts advocacy organization Americans for the Arts on the Arts and Economic Prosperity Study 6, also known as AEP6. The study, which seeks to measure the economic impact of the U.S. nonprofit arts and culture industry, launches locally this month and will produce results in September 2023. As one of many study partners, RAC will coordinate survey gathering in the region.

“We are an arts community, we are an arts industry and we’re going to talk about that differently,” said Randy Cohen, vice president of research, at Americans for the Arts, while speaking to a group of arts administers at a kick-off event on Tuesday. “The arts inspire us, they create communities that we want to live in and work in … I want to challenge you to think about the arts not only as a charity but as an industry that supports jobs, one that generates government revenue, one that is a cornerstone of tourism.”

Results from the study will primarily be useful as advocacy tools for arts organizations to demonstrate to the value of the arts and the power of investing in them, Cohen said. St. Louis has taken part in all the Americans for the Arts surveys, which began in 1994 and typically are conducted every five years. AEP6 was delayed due to the pandemic.

For this latest survey, RAC has decided to change its methodology to try and capture a broader array of arts organizations as survey respondents, with special attention paid to organizations that serve the BIPOC community in the region.

For the previous iteration, AEP5, RAC found 285 area arts organizations qualified for the survey but only 163 of those completed it. For this survey, the commission has identified more than 734 qualifying arts orgs.

Despite the relatively smaller population size of the previous survey, AEP5 found that the arts have a significant fiscal impact in St. Louis.

At that time, arts and culture organizations supported 19,129 full-time equivalent jobs in the region and created $476 million in household income and $57.8 million in local and state government revenue. In addition, arts events brought in out-of-state tourists, who spent 120 percent more than locals attending arts events.

The impact of the arts includes not only money spent directly on the arts but those funds that go toward everything from food, transportation and lodging for tourists to printing costs for programs to accountants to keep the books, and beyond.

“What it does is changes the conversation, right?” Cohen said of the results, “we have to be relentless in our messaging, we’ve got to tell these stories again and again.”

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