Arts and culture as economic drivers

Arts and culture are “big business,” according to Americans for the Arts, a national nonprofit organization for advancing the arts in America.

That was the finding of the nonprofit’s fourth national economic impact study, a study the organization repeats every five years.

The results, which were revealed in June 2012, demonstrated that “nationally, the arts and culture industry is an economic engine, generating $135 billion of economic activity, supporting 4.1 million full-time jobs, and generating $22.2 billion in revenue to local, state and federal governments every year — a yield well beyond their collective $4 billion in arts allocations.”

June 2016 marks the midway point of Americans for the Arts’ fifth national economic impact study, which in Fairfield County is being conducted by the Cultural Alliance of Western Connecticut and the Cultural Alliance of Fairfield County. Lower Fairfield County and Wilton in particular are being surveyed by the latter.

“That data was collected in 2011, when the economy was still bouncing back, so we know that the numbers for this year are going to be even more impressive,” Jennifer Bangser of the Cultural Alliance of Fairfield County told The Bulletin.

The two-year project’s final report, Arts & Economic Prosperity V, will be available in June 2017. “It’ll be really interesting next year to see how things have grown,” Bangser said.

“There’s not one community here in Fairfield County that isn’t full of arts and cultural facilities,” Bangser said. Wilton, for instance, has the Wilton Playshop, the Wilton Library and the Wilton Historical Society.

“Back in 2012, in Fairfield County alone, arts and culture generated $10 million in local and state revenue, plus it supported 4,000 full-time jobs,” Bangser said.

This prosperity is possible for a number of reasons, one of which is event spending. People attending local arts and cultural events or participating in local arts and cultural programs are more likely to give additional money to businesses in the area, Bangser said.

The 2012 study, according to Bangser, showed that “about $20 to $22 and change in additional spending happened in a community if somebody was attending an arts and cultural event.”

“If you're coming to Wilton and attending something at the Wilton Playshop, you might go out to dinner, get a drink, go get ice cream after, pay to park, buy something at a giftshop, or purchase lodging if you’re traveling,” Bangser said.

A good percentage of those extra monies spent is expended by tourists, Bangser added, and economic development finance professional and Wilton resident Keith Rodgerson agrees.

He told The Bulletin, “A lot of people in my field spend a lot of their time layering financing on top of economic development deals and housing development deals and public construction projects, but at the center of all these things we do are livability factors.

“Arts and culture really is the connective tissue that helps to create these nodes where people will get out of their car, walk around, stay at a bed and breakfast or a hotel, and  take the time to experience the wide periphery of things to do in well-planned places,” Rodgerson said.

He said tourists are fundamentally different from local residents with the way they treat excess income.

“Tourists like to experience different things to eat; they like to experience different places to stay; they like to engage arts and entertainment and sports that maybe they can’t get where they come from,” Rodgerson said.

“In essence, the consumer habits of a tourist are really a different metric than those of someone living in a town and going into town for local services,” he said.

Rodgerson added that for municipalities looking to get ahead in this economy, regionalizing business is of great import, and local arts and culture programming is one way of achieving this.

“The economic viability of any town or city in Connecticut rests on its ability to capture consumer cashflows from outside of its borders, and if you look at towns in Connecticut that have a lot of tourism, what you will see are low rates of vacancy and a wide range of businesses that are servicing a region and not just a town,” Rodgerson said.