Local leaders say they already know nonprofit arts groups help support the economy in Prince George’s County, but now they have updated data to back up that assertion.
“We now have a product to share,” says Rhonda Dallas, executive director of the Prince George’s Arts and Humanities Council, based in Hyattsville.
Dallas is talking about results from a study called “Arts & Economic Prosperity IV,” which is updated every five years by Americans for the Arts, a national lobbying and educational group for the arts based in Washington, D.C.
A total of 26 out of 143 eligible arts and culture organizations responded to the study with information for 2010. The results also include surveys of audiences attending arts events in 2011.
The results show that the 26 organizations generated $16.3 million in economic activity, with audiences generating another $12.6 million through related spending at restaurants, hotels and other businesses, for a total of $28.9 million in economic activity.
The spending by arts organizations supported the equivalent of 399 full-time jobs, with another 245 equivalent full-time jobs supported by audiences, for a total of 644 jobs, according to the report for Prince George’s County.
“The study brings awareness, it makes it black and white — you can’t refute the numbers,” says Dallas about the economic impact of local arts organizations.
Among the respondents were the Alice Ferguson Foundation (managers of the Hard Bargain Players theater in Accokeek); the Bluebird Blues Festival at Prince George’s Community College in Largo; the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland, College Park; the Dance Box Theater and Joe’s Movement Emporium, both in Mount Rainier; and the Tantallon Community Players in Fort Washington.
“These are concrete stats to back up what we already knew is true,” Dallas says.
But Dallas also says there is plenty of room for growth in Prince George’s County, which has fewer arts organizations than Montgomery County.
Montgomery County has a population of 972,000 compared to 863,000 in in Prince George’s County, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
However, the study said Montgomery County had 388 eligible nonprofit arts and cultural organizations, compared to 143 eligible organizations in Prince George’s County, despite similar large populations.
“We want to try to close that gap,” says Samantha Vernon, program administrator for the Prince George’s County Art in Public Places program.
Dallas says momentum is building to position arts organizations as part of public and private economic development efforts in the county.
Joe’s Movement Emporium, for example, recently received a $50,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts’ “Our Town” program to build on the success of the arts-related organizations in the Gateway Arts and Entertainment District along Route 1.
The “Our Town” program awards grants to spur revitalization and strengthen communities.
“[Gateway] was the first arts district in Maryland and it’s growing by leaps and bounds,” says Dallas, who says the arts should be viewed as “an economic engine.”
Not only do nonprofit arts and cultural organizations generate jobs, they act as draws that attract restaurants and other businesses, she says.
“We want to build our cultural infrastructure, so that we can make Prince George’s County an arts destination,” says Dallas, citing the planned construction of a permanent African-American cultural center in the Gateway district.
Both Laurel and Bowie are looking into creating similar state-designated arts districts, which offer tax breaks for businesses that locate within them, she says.
Dallas also says the Arts and Humanities Council is looking into establishing a writers’ center in a building somewhere in the southern part of Prince George’s County modeled on the nonprofit Writers’ Center in Bethesda, which hosts workshops and sponsors literary events.
She also cited Suitland as a possible development site, because it already is home to Suitland High School, which she says offers one of the top arts programs in the region.
“We can build on that and create an arts center where students, when they graduate, can continue to be involved and stay in the county,” she says.
Meanwhile, Vernon and radio station WPGC 95.5 FM in Lanham are running a contest to pick someone to paint a mural with a health and wellness theme for one of six targeted revitalization areas in the county, one of which is the Suitland/Coral Hills area.
The six high-crime areas have been selected through the county’s Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative.
The deadline for applying was Monday, and Vernon says 50 applicants will be chosen at random and asked to submit an original artwork via email.
The winner will receive $1,000 and the materials to create the mural with input from the community, she says.
“If it’s a success, we want to do this in every TNI [area],” Vernon says.
With a combination of public and private projects, Prince George’s County hopes to boost the number of arts organizations in the county, helping to create jobs and strengthen the county economy.
“When we connect all the dots, we can market Prince George’s County as a creative destination and keep our talent in the county,” Dallas says.
For a one-page summary of the Prince George’s County report, visit www.artsusa.org, click on “Arts & Economic Prosperity IV” and click on the map for a list of state and local reports.