Our View: The arts are an economic engine | TheUnion.com

Our View: The arts are an economic engine

Conversations about western Nevada County’s economy often focus on the business community, the tech industry and the burgeoning cannabis commerce.

One aspect often overlooked, in our community and elsewhere, is the economic impact of arts and entertainment.

The local nonprofits producing a year-round, jam-packed schedule of arts and entertainment options often seem a “Little Engine that Could” story, balancing shoestring budgets supported by small armies of volunteers that barely break even.

But a study released by the Nevada County Arts Council, in collaboration with Americans for the Arts, proves our arts scene to be more akin to a high-powered economic engine that brings big business than that little train that thinks it can.

Data from the report, Arts & Economic Prosperity 5, shows in 2018 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.

“When we support the arts as cities, counties or businesses, those dollars aren’t just disappearing down some black hole of goodness,” said Randy Cohen, of Americans for the Arts. “It’s giving back to the community, in the form of jobs and government revenue.”

The economic impact of nonprofit arts and culture industry extends far beyond tickets sold or artwork purchased. It also includes the $25.7 million in total expenditures by these Nevada County nonprofits in 2018, in the form of funding payrolls, supplies and services. It also includes dollars brought by arts and culture organizations to our local businesses, whether with hotels, restaurants and taverns also visited by an event’s attendees or the creative people who design and print its programs and promotions.

The study shows that, among the 103 local organizations that provided data, the aggregate attendance was more than a half million people in 2018. And nearly one-third of those attending area events were not local residents, which means they spent on average an additional $68.65 per person over the cost of admission, in comparison to $27.87 by those who live here.

Visitors are drawn here by what might seem a surprisingly robust quality and quantity of arts and entertainment options in a county of about 100,000 people. Some suggest, when friends ask about life here, that it’s “like the Carmel and Sausalito of the 1960s,” with the number of actors and authors, poets and photographers, musicians and artistically active people we have here.

“We do know that when you look at other communities the size of Nevada County,” said Nevada County Arts Council President Jon Blinder, “there’s very few comparable in the country with regard to the depth of the arts that we provide for the community.”

That’s apparently becoming more widely known across California, as Nevada County is the only county in the state to have two cultural districts. Both the combined district of Grass Valley and Nevada City, and Truckee, are among 14 areas statewide to have received the designation. The two Nevada County designees are among only four rural districts recognized by the state program.

Just earlier this week, Nevada County was well represented on the steps of the State Capitol for an arts advocacy day, organized by Californians for the Arts, an organization now led by Julie Baker, former executive director of The Center for the Arts in Grass Valley. Along with Baker, six of Rob Metcalfe’s Nevada Union High School drama students performed monologues and Nevada County Poet Laureate Molly Fisk read her work in celebration of California Arts, Culture and Creativity Month.

Support for the arts is evident in the number of organizations operating in the community, as well as the number of events hosted here. Take a look at the list of sponsors on event programs and you’ll get a glimpse at how many businesses and individuals recognize the value of a vibrant arts scene. But as any of our arts organizations can attest, raising revenue to make ends meet isn’t easy.

Eliza Tudor, executive director of the Nevada County Arts Council, said more than 60% of her organization’s $217,000 budget in 2018 came from grant-writing efforts to the state. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed budget includes $10 million in increased permanent funding for the California Arts Council.

“Because we’re right in the middle of making our annual state-local partnership application to California Arts Council, I know that by showing this (study) as part of our support materials it will give strength to the application,” Tudor said.

A show of strength can also come through continued donations, of both dollars and volunteer efforts, to the myriad arts and entertainment organizations we’re blessed with here. Those organizations can also make a stronger arts scene by collaborating in cohesive cultural planning to capitalize on audiences already in town or to find open dates to avoid direct competition for their dollars.

All said, with this study, Nevada County Arts Council has done its homework to better understand the opportunity afforded to our community by the arts. Similar in-depth studies would be welcome on various other issues that are decided by our local elected officials.

After all, knowledge is power. And, thanks to this study, we now know the horsepower the arts community provides as an economic engine is well worth its significant return on investment.

Our View is the consensus opinion of The Union Editorial Board, a group of editors and writers from The Union, as well as informed community members. Contact the board at EditBoard@TheUnion.com.

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