The economics of creativity: New report highlights the business of art in Nevada County |

The economics of creativity: New report highlights the business of art in Nevada County

When imagining an artist, the next word associated is often “starving.”

Creators of paintings, sculptures and novels are not expected to have easy lives as their job isn’t frequently considered a revenue generator.

Americans for the Arts, a national nonprofit, and Nevada County arts organizations are trying to change that narrative after releasing a report last Thursday on the economics of the arts in the county.

The data from the report, Arts & Economic Prosperity 5, is revealing. During the 2018 fiscal year, the arts in Nevada County produced $46.9 million in total economic activity, 869 full-time jobs, $20.9 million in household income and $5.1 million in local and state government revenue.

“(The arts) support jobs, they drive revenue, they drive tourism,” said Randy Cohen, vice president of research and policy at Americans for the Arts, at the Rood Center Thursday.

“This is a community-wide impact,” said Cohen. “It’s not just food for the soul. It’s actually putting food on the table.”

Frequently, money for the arts comes from people living outside the community. According to the report, nonresidents spent an average of $40.78 more than county residents on arts and cultural events, excluding the cost of event admission. Much of that money comes from what nonresidents spent on lodging.

It’s possible that more are recognizing the arts’ economic relevance. The year-long survey that produced the report came on the heels of an announcement by Gov. Gavin Newsom. In January, Newsom added a $10 million permanent increase in the state budget for arts programming.

Nationally, the report shows the nonprofit arts industry generating $166.3 billion in economic activity and supporting 4.6 million jobs in 2015. Spending per $100,000 on the arts toward job creation and residential household income is lower in the county than the national median. Still, some local arts and culture organizations believe Nevada County has only just begun recognizing the economic vitality associated with the arts.

“The exciting things about this report is it’s a foundational building block,” said Eliza Tudor, executive director of the Nevada County Arts council. “We need to know what we are worth to use it as a planning tool for the future.”


Tudor is particularly optimistic because Grass Valley-Nevada City and Truckee were designated as cultural districts by the state in 2017. The designation was meant to increase tourism and emphasize interest in the arts, said Tudor.

The label will last five years and allows for $5,000 for the first year to each district. While the money is not much, Tudor admitted, the recognition of the arts relevance is a lot.

“I would say the biggest impact of the state designation at the early stage in the pilot program is that it’s brought our community leaders together in a way that we would have never previously experienced,” she said.

It’s the executive director’s hope that — after the cultural designations and subsequent report — arts and cultural organizations will be called when future economic development projects occur.

“The arts will always be at the table when community planning and community development are being discussed,” she said.

Local artist Ron Kenedi, went a bit further, hoping the county embraces art as its economic backbone.

“We have a little bit of technology, but mostly what we do in this county is for entertainment,” said Kenedi, adding that camping, hiking, street fairs and local festivals are all arts and cultural destinations.

The artist wants Nevada County to be more like Santa Fe, a place where people recently began traveling to appreciate and buy art. Like the city, he said we should start leveraging our biggest asset.

“We have always been the cultural capital of the foothills,” he said.

Contact Sam Corey at 530-477-4219 or at

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