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Investing in the Arts Yields Financial and Cultural Returns in Columbus

Walker Evans Walker Evans Investing in the Arts Yields Financial and Cultural Returns in Columbus
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Randy Cohen, VP of Research and Policy at Americans for the Arts

This Wednesday, the Columbus Metropolitan Club will host a forum luncheon dedicated to the discussion of arts funding in our community and the type of economic activity that the arts are generating. The panel will be moderated by Ann Fisher from All Sides on WOSU and will include speakers Michael Gonsiorowski, Regional President of PNC; Columbus City Councilmember Priscilla Tyson; and Randy Cohen, VP of Research and Policy at the DC-based Americans for the Arts.

Cohen is coming to Columbus specifically for this event and hopes to further this important ongoing discussion on arts funding.

We recently had the opportunity to speak with Cohen for a Q&A about how the arts community in Columbus stacks up to its counterparts around the country:

Q: First, what can you tell us about Americans for the Arts for those unfamiliar with the organization and what it advocates?

A: For more than 50 years, Americans for the Arts has worked to ensure that every American has access to the arts and a quality arts education. Our organization pushed for the establishment of the NEA back in the early 1960s and today we are the lead advocacy organization for federal-state-local government arts funding. We brought an arts presence at both the R and D political conventions this past summer because arts is a non-partisan issue. We also have the Business Committee on the Arts which helps business leaders find ways to advance the arts in their communities and nationally.

Q: According to the Arts and Economic Prosperity IV report (PDF link) conducted by Americans for the Arts, the Columbus region benefits from $226 million in annual economic activity from the nonprofit arts sector. What exactly does that mean, and how does that amount compare to other cities of our size?

A: Like the national figures, the Columbus numbers dipped between 2005 and 2010. This was largely the effect of the Great Recession, which pushed down attendance numbers and reduced audience per person spending. In terms of compared to other communities of similar population, Columbus is squarely in the median.

Q: Beyond a tangible financial impact, what sort of cultural ROI should we consider as a community when looking to fund public and nonprofit arts programs?

A: Economic impact is just one measure of the benefits of the arts to a community. A vibrant arts community yields an array of social, educational, and economic development benefits. Of course, we should support them because the arts are a fundamental component of a healthy community. They inspire, delight and entertain. The arts create the communities that we want to live in.

Q: With Columbus being a “younger” city both in terms of history as well as our younger-than-average median age, what challenges do you think we face with properly funding arts organizations when compared to an older city that may be blessed with legacy funding or more “old money” endowments for arts institutions?

A: While younger cities often don’t have the old money that a Pittsburgh, Cleveland, or Boston might have, they generally have stronger levels of local government support.

Q: The Greater Columbus Arts Council recently provided us with a list of local examples of the economic impacts of the arts, including the Shadowbox Live theatre group leading the entertainment resurgence of the Brewery District and the Annie Leibovitz show at the Wexner Center that broke attendance records. Is there any one example you have of the arts economy shining in Columbus above all others? Or is there something that we should be doing better with arts programs moving forward?

A: Columbus is a great arts city and offers a range of cultural opportunities to its residents. The city is recognized for high quality performing and exhibition organizations. I have been in 50 cities over the past six months talking about arts and the economy, and in more than half of them I have touted CAPA, which is a creative, innovative, and successful example for communities looking to create greater stability for their local arts industry. If CAPA hadn’t been established, I am certain the city would be a few important performing arts organizations lighter.

Q: Anything else we should know in advance of the “Arts R.O.I.” event at the Columbus Metropolitan Club on Wednesday?

A: The arts mean business in Columbus. I hope during my visit we can advance the conversation about the importance of investing and supporting the arts and keeping the Columbus arts industry vibrant.

This economic impact study of the arts sends a welcome message to Columbus and Franklin County leaders: If you care about community and economic vitality, you can feel good about investing in the arts. What do you do with a local industry that supports nearly 8,500 jobs and generates $11 million in revenue to local government? Invest in it, nurture it, and grow it!

Lastly, I am looking forward to being back in Columbus! I’ve been there many times and I love the city, the food, the culture, and the people!

For more information about Americans for the Arts, visit www.artsusa.org.

For more information about Wednesday’s CMC event, visit www.columbusmetroclub.org.

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