Looking at the big picture: Arts investments provide economic boost, report says

Published: Wednesday, June 21, 2017 By: Molly M. Fleming Source: The Journal Record

OKLAHOMA CITY – A few years ago, the Oklahoma Arts Council started funding the planning process for Alva’s cultural arts district.

From 2012 to 2015, the council distributed $25,000 to Freedom West Community Development Corp., the entity that applied for the money.

The three-block-long and three-block-wide district, which centers around the Woods County courthouse, is anchored by Northwestern Oklahoma State University.

Freedom West Executive Director Kay Decker said since the district was formed, arts-related groups have been brought together. The area has attracted four creative businesses.

The biggest return on the $25,000, however, has been the $15 million in private investment. A historic hotel and bank have been restored, along with other developments.

“(The arts district plan) helped to give the private building owners a little bit of support and understanding that the downtown is far from dead,” she said. “It’s moving forward.”

Alva isn’t the only place that’s seen a return on an arts investment. Statewide, arts-related events generated $541.6 million in spending in 2015, excluding admission price. Nearly 30,000 jobs statewide were supported by arts and culture events, according to the Arts and Economic Prosperity 5 study, conducted by Americans for the Arts.

Oklahomans for the Arts and nonprofit leaders discussed the statewide findings on Wednesday at the state Capitol.

The Oklahoma-specific numbers were generated by 3,823 surveys from arts-event attendees and 392 nonprofit or municipal organizations.

Oklahomans for the Arts Project Manager Kelsey Karper said the figures were generated on a conservative basis, and no estimations were made if an organization didn’t reply. The study also says there were no multipliers used to generate the indirect economic impact.

In Oklahoma, nonprofit and cultural organizations spent an estimated $331.2 million. The total direct expenditures in economic activity was reported as $872.8 million. Local and state government revenue was nearly $85 million, according to the study.

In Oklahoma City, the Museum of Art’s Matisse in His Time exhibit, which ran for three months, attracted more than 62,000 visitors from all 50 states and 13 countries. The estimated economic impact was $5.6 million. Many of the visitors stayed the night in the city, which in total generated $1.8 million.

“The arts do give back,” Karper said. “Funding for the arts is not one-way street.”

When people go out for an arts event in Oklahoma, they spend $39.26 per person on food and other activities. This does not include the ticket price.

“This shows the power that the arts and culture has to not only attract people to communities but to retain locals and their discretionary spending, and keep their money at home,” she said.

While the study is packed with numbers, including results in cities such as Ponca City, Enid, and Guthrie, there are still elected officials who can change how arts are funded. Oklahomans for the Arts Executive Director Julia Kirt said the main goal with the study is to show there is a return on arts investment. She said her group is still working on calculating how much $1 for the arts generates in communities, but it used to be that $1 equals $8 in the community.

Arts Alliance Tulsa Executive Director Todd Cunningham mentioned other industries in Oklahoma, especially the volatility of the oil and gas sector. But this study shows the arts can be a viable Oklahoma industry, he said.

“The arts mean business and together we can make Oklahoma stronger,” he said.

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