The perception that nonprofit arts and cultural organizations approach potential donors with their hands out belies the fact that such organizations, like businesses, also provide jobs, buy goods and services and generate related tax revenue.
So says an updated study on the economic impact of the arts and humanities in Montgomery County.
“I was flabbergasted by the numbers,” said Tom Kuehhas, executive director of the Montgomery County Historical Society based in Rockville.
“The arts and humanities [are seen] as takers rather than givers, but this study blows the lid off that,” he said.
Kuehhas was one of dozens of arts and cultural administrators, county officials and business people who met in Silver Spring on Wednesday to discuss the report.
Updated every five years, the Arts & Economic Prosperity impact study is a national study prepared by Americans for the Arts, a lobbying group for the arts based in Washington, D.C.
One of 73 nonprofit participants from Montgomery County, the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery Council released the data at the offices of United Therapeutics Corp., in downtown Silver Spring.
The purpose of the event was to inform administrators, officials and businesses that nonprofit groups and their audiences support businesses and provide jobs in addition to improving the quality of life.
“The arts are good business and so much more,” said County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) at the event.
The report for the county says that the 73 respondents and their audiences generated $151 million in economic activity through employing people, buying goods and event-related spending on restaurants and hotels in fiscal 2010.
That makes Montgomery County second only to D.C. ($1.1 billion in economic impact) in the region, and ahead of Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax County, said Randy Cohen, a Takoma Park resident and vice president for research and policy at Americans for the Arts.
“[The study] dispels a common misconception that the arts are a luxury,” said Cohen, who said financial support by government and business helps support the local economy.
“It’s to show that it’s not going into a black hole,” he said.
The study indicates, for example, that the 73 nonprofit arts and cultural organizations support the equivalent of 2,049 full-time jobs, and that their audiences support another 906 jobs through event-related spending.
“[Government and business] budgets are about priorities,” said Steven Silverman, economic development director for Montgomery County. “It’s important to drive the point home about job creation and the taxes generated.”
Nonprofits don’t pay income or property taxes in Montgomery County, but the 73 respondents and their audiences generated nearly $5 million in revenue for Montgomery County and municipal governments in the county through permit and filing fees and local income taxes paid by employees, according to the study.
Officials also said that vibrant arts communities attract skilled workers that are sought by employers looking to relocate, which gives Montgomery County a competitive edge in attracting companies to build the tax base and create jobs.
“Arts are important to attract and retain a work force,” said Marilyn Balcombe, president and CEO of the Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber of Commerce.
She also said that supporting an arts organization is a way to publicize a business.
“It’s a way of advertising and marketing, it helps get the word out and your message out,” said Balcombe, citing the listing of supporters in concert programs.
“If you’re an arts person and you see the name, you develop an affinity with [the company],” Balcombe said.
Officials also talked about the proven power of arts organizations to spark development and redevelopment in rundown areas.
“The arts are critical to revitalizaton,” said Silverman, refering to the anchor role the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center and Round House Theatre played in the redevelopment of downtown Silver Spring with restaurants and retailers.
Similar stories include Imagination Stage in downtown Bethesda and the BlackRock Center for the Arts in the Germantown Town Center.
“There are opportunities for economic spinoff,” Silverman said.
Kuehhas said he was inspired by the event and will now approach potential supporters with the help of solid data.
“This research gives us a leg up when we are going out to talk to donors,” he said.
“I feel I have strength in hand when we go to corporate donors, because we are an income generator.”
For copies of both the Montgomery County and national Arts & Economic Prosperity studies, visit www.creativemoco.com/aep4/resources.