Oriscus Home

Impact of the Arts on Economic Prosperity

The constant struggle for public funding to arts agencies on the local, state and federal levels is a battle for understanding. In lean economic times, arts funding seems to be an obvious choice for the budget axe when weighed against funding for education, healthcare, and other essential infrastructure needs. It has always been my conviction that the economic activity generated by the arts far outweighs its meager costs to governments. Hard times are exactly when arts funding should be increased. 

Now there is proof of this conviction in the form of a new report from Americans for the Arts. Arts & Economic Prosperity: The Economic Impact of Nonprofit Arts Organizations and Their Audiences clearly outlines the bottom line benefits of arts activities to economic prosperity in general and to tax revenues in particular. In 2001, Congress appropriated $105 million for the NEA. By contrast, arts activity generates $10.5 billion in federal tax revenues. That's a return of 100 times the federal investment. There are similar figures for state and local revenues as well as for employment. Anyone unwilling to support public funding on grounds that it is not cost effective just doesn't get it.

Arts organizations are among the most efficient businesses of any industry. In the performing arts it is common to publish a calendar of events and sell tickets for an entire season ahead of time. This means the show MUST go on, on time and within budget. They can't tell their audiences  the work is not quite ready and can they come back in a month. Arts organizations that run deficits don't survive long. This takes careful management and planning on a level few for-profit corporations could equal.

In the arts memory is everything. We try to create objects and events that will survive for a time as experience. Much of what we do is ephemeral, so the way we sustain ourselves is by doing it again, but in a different way. The continuation of art is a constant struggle that needs nurturing. 

-Dwight Newton, 01/01/2003