APT in the News
Arts an Economic Engine for Auburn
September 11, 2012
Arts and culture by the numbers
by Andrew Roblee for The Citizen Newspaper
Throughout the Great Recession we have been bombarded with messages imploring us all to employ a certain kind of self restraint in our private and, of course, public spending. This economic reaction is in itself not unreasonable. It is quite natural. The effects of this way of thinking, however, carry implicit rejections of the value of certain discretionary spending, especially the arts. Arts and cultural often become the low hanging fruit when budget cutting season rolls around. The recent study by Americans for the Arts on the economic impact of Auburn’s historic and cultural institutions will hopefully illustrate to local business and civic leaders how the arts impact our bottom line. In a world where many people fancy themselves amateur economists one must have hard facts and figures at the ready to back up the argument for an investment. The above mentioned study provides those of us who champion cultural institutions with the data sets needed to make a case for our sometimes ambiguous and metaphorical crafts. According to the study, Auburn’s nonprofit arts and cultural sites generate $3.6 million in economic activity. Two million of that total comes directly from the nonprofits themselves spending in the community. The rest is made up of spending by audiences, 44 percent of whom are from out of county. The full time equivalent jobs (an economist’s way of calculating all full and part time labor in one easy to understand integer) supported by these institutions are 104. I could go on with more interesting and surprising numbers. It bears mentioning that none of this data includes the money generated by the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse, or the new Music Theatre Festival. If those numbers were rolled into the study one can imagine the impact on the results. Now all of the institutions in the study are of course privately operated nonprofits, who rely on support from various sources of income. In today’s economic climate the discussion quickly turns to what is worthy or unworthy of public funding. According to the study, $5 billion of public money is spent nationwide on arts and culture institutions. The revenue returned to local, state, and federal governments every year by these same institutions is $22 billion, over a 400% return on public investment. Auburn’s revenue from her cultural sites is over $260,000 after a public investment of only $50,000, a 500% return. I don’t have any illusions that this little article will influence how governments or even “regular people” direct their money. The arts and culture industry will never be able to compete for attention with the classic giants of American economic power. Yet when local communities are lucky enough to have the cultural wealth that Auburn does the arts can contribute in very measurable ways. Jobs in the cultural sector, by nature, cannot be sent overseas or be automated. The security of these jobs is directly proportional to how much value we together place on heritage. To simply write off any investment in Auburn’s historic, or artistic institutions would be simply uncultured.