Study: Arts Generated $91.9M for Albuquerque Economy

If ever there was an incentive to practice it was the Shame Flute.

Lousy musicians in the Middle Ages had the thing locked around their neck and their hands clamped to the flute’s body. I learned about the diabolical device last week from Randy Cohen, vice president of research and policy with Americans for the Arts, who presented data on the economic impact of the arts to the Economic Forum, a regular gathering of top business leaders in Albuquerque.

“People really cared about their music,” Cohen said of the flute-of-shame.

Cohen’s story was rhetorically clever and meant to emphasize how the arts have slipped in priority across American society of late, relegated to the realm of expendable luxuries, along with other easy targets like public TV and its presidential-debate mascot of Big Bird.

But not only do the arts uplift us, they’re also great for the economy, Cohen said. AFTA’s new study, the Arts & Economic Prosperity IV, found that in 2010, non-profit arts and culture organizations and their audiences generated $135.2 billion in economic activity nationwide. For Albuquerque , that number was $91.9 million, with $61.6 million of that spent by the arts organizations, who also supported 3,674 jobs. They delivered $11.6 million in state and local revenue as well.

“That’s against a $5 million outlay, so that’s a pretty decent return,” Cohen said. AFTA looked only at non-profit arts and culture organizations because that’s where government funding typically goes.

“We want them to know what they’re getting for that investment,” Cohen said.

Cohen, whose talk was presented by Creative Albuquerque, told the Economic Forum that AFTA found the Albuquerque arts attendee spent $19.69 beyond admission costs. Non-locals spent $34.77 on average, versus $15.77 by locals. And 62 percent of non-locals came to the city just to attend a specific cultural event.

Cohen pointed out that sponsors of the AFTA study included the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Conference Board, which also released a study in 2008 about the demand for creative skills by employers. That’s because they see the arts as fundamental to the economy, he said. Today’s workers are quite different.

Randy Cohen of AFTA addressed the Economic Forum in Albuquerque

“They pick communities where they want to live and figure out how to work there,” Cohen said. Many choose places that are culturally vibrant, he added. In fact, the U.S. Conference of Mayors has urged more investment in the arts and San Diego’s city council voted to more than double its arts budget to $17 million.

Susan Pentecost, data analyst with Creative Albuquerque, tempered the good news with the Creative Vitality Index report for Albuquerque’s four-county metropolitan statistical area.
Pentecost said the MSA has a strong creative sector but it’s not thriving as it could be. The arts community is fragmented, with many small organizations competing for funding. That affects their ability to have significant impacts, she said.

“We are so much more here,” Pentecost said. “I’ve lived and worked in many places and this place has what many are flocking to in other places.”

Pentecost laid out Creative Albuquerque’s recommendations. Those include re-branding the city to reflect its cultural richness and fostering closer ties between the arts and the business sector.

Write us your thoughts about this post. Play nice.