The value of art

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What’s the value of art to Missoula? If a committee or task force or mass gathering of citizens attempted to answer that question, the responses would be as diverse as the number of people attending. When pressed, however, the group answer likely would be more qualitative than quantitative: “Priceless.”

While emotionally satisfying, that answer doesn’t mean much in the real world, where local government leaders have to rely on facts more than feelings and where dollars count more than abstractions.

Fortunately, we know the economic value of arts in Missoula, especially arts presented by nonprofit organizations like MCT, the Missoula Symphony Orchestra, the Missoula Art Museum and others. How? Because in 2005, the Missoula Cultural Council (MCC) participated in the third national “Arts & Economic Prosperity” study organized by the nonprofit organization Americans For the Arts (AFA). We were the only Montana city to participate and we’re about to do so again in 2011. To succeed, however, we need the help of arts presenters and audience members alike.

Through calendar 2011, MCC board members and volunteers will arrange to be at selected arts events with clipboards, pencils and AFA survey forms for audience members. Each one-page form only takes minutes to complete. AFA doesn’t ask for your name, address or any other personal identifiers, although it does request your ZIP code to determine if you’re a Missoula resident or an out-of-town “cultural tourist.”

MCC has been charged with collecting 800 surveys in 2011, making sure that we collect some in each quarter of the year. Once they’re in hand, we’ll send them to AFA, which will use time-tested formulas to calculate total economic impacts. In addition, we’re asking nonprofit arts organizations to submit a more detailed survey of operational expenses so AFA can calculate their contributions to the local economy.

All of that information will be compiled in a detailed report on “The Economic Impact of Nonprofit Arts and Culture Organizations and Their Audiences in the City of Missoula.” That report is due in 2012 and will provide valuable information for city decision-makers and economic development organizations, as well as the Missoula arts community. Here are some highlights from the 2006 report (based on 2005 surveys):

• On average, a person attending an arts or culture event in Missoula spent more than $25 on goods or services surrounding that event, over and above the price of admission.

• In total, arts and culture audiences contributed more than $22 million to Missoula’s economy. Arts organizations contributed another $12 million through their everyday operations.

• Arts and culture in Missoula supported 1,174 jobs and contributed more than $1.5 million to local government. State government received another $1.2 million.

Updating those figures will help ensure that arts and culture are part of Missoula’s community planning efforts. To that end, we ask the following:

To arts organizations: Please allow MCC to survey a portion of your audience members. And please participate in our organizational surveys.

To audience members: Please spend a few minutes before the performance to confirm what we believe: that while art and culture are priceless, their worth can be stated in a way community policymakers understand—in dollars and cents.

Tom Bensen

Executive Director

Missoula Cultural Council

Ian Marquand

Arts and Economic Study Committee Chair

Missoula Cultural Council

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