In Wilmington, one of the recent hot topics has been the viability of resurrecting an arts council. Arguments favor its creation so Wilmington has a unified voice that can advocate for money and recognition on a state and national level. One of the arguments against investing in an arts council is that, even without one, we have a flourishing arts community that people are passionately invested in! Why fix it if it ain’t broke?
I have been asked by several of my friends employed in the arts what the Live Local stance on a council would be. Once I got over the shock that they read this column, I responded that I wasn’t sure, but am open to both arguments and any auxiliary information they or anyone else would like to provide.
Given the financial aspect of a council, I decided to look into the real economic impact of the arts. Americans for the Arts, a non-profit arts advocacy organization, produced the stats in 1994, 2002 and 2005, and is preparing to do so yet again. The lastest findings from the group’s research are fascinating.
2005 Economic Impact of the Non-profit Arts & Culture Industy (expenditures by both organizations and audiences):
Total Expenditures: $166.2 billion
Full-Time Equivalent Jobs: $5.7 million
Resident Household Income: $104.2 billion
Local Government Revenue: $7.9 billion
State Government Revenue: $9.1 billion
Federal Income Tax Revenue: $12.6 billion
All this from a demographic frequently thought of as fringe, frivolous and marginal? For those of you who missed it, GE made headlines this year with the success of the tax avoidance strategies which have left them with no federal taxes to pay. The bohemian artist types who own and populate Acme Art in Wilmington pay more in federal taxes than the nation’s largest corporation. Interesting, n’est pas?
In addition to the tax revenue generated from the arts, the cultural gain is priceless. I feel like a big portion of my week is spent advocating for Wilmington as a re-location site. Almost everyday I talk to someone in the bookstore who is visiting and “thinking of moving here.”
“This is a great place to live!“ I respond. “As a local, can I answer any questions? Help you find anything?”
Invariably someone asks if I like living here and why. Where to begin? At least 30 live theatre companies at my last count, more film screenings than one can shake a stick at, the symphony, the choral groups, the poetry and literature readings, our incredible visual arts, and the music scene: blues, jazz, folk, country, rap, rock, noise and things I’m too old to know about. “If you are staying home, it’s because you are choosing to,” I point out.
There are so many sides to this polygon that picking one to start with is difficult. Our area has a strong tourism industry. One of the biggest drivers of that is what could best be called our “film cred.” People come here to see the locations, tour the studio and are beside themselves with delight when they get to witness a movie or TV show shooting on the street. All these people need a bed to sleep in and food to eat while they are here, too.
We have just built a convention center and are trying to get a hotel to go with it. To truly position ourselves as a city worthy of conventions, there must be something to do here. Sitting in a cubicle at PPD is not a vacation activity for most people, and you can only visit the beach so often. There must be art walks, music, shows, activity to draw people not only here once but to bring their families back after the convention is over. Essentially, would you rather go to a convention in Raleigh or Austin, TX? Do we really have to spell out the reasons why the second is better? No one has ever gotten excited about spending spring break in Raleigh, but they do about coming here— and it’s not just the beach.
At a time when so much of our economy is suffering from outsourcing work, artists are continuing to provide products and services made right here. Think about going to see a show at Thalian Hall: Opera House Theatre Company rents the main stage of the venue for a three-week run of a show. To do this they pay rent, box office fees and the technical liaison fee (i.e., someone’s salary). They hire Scenic Asylum to design, build and transport a set to the theatre. They hire a costumer, lighting designer, technicians, stage manager, props builders and, of course, actors. Posters must be designed and then printed (usually at Dock Street Printing), as must programs. Photos are taken, videos are made and an audience comes to the show. All of these jobs are here, and with the exception of printing, would be very difficult to offshore to India.
Finally, when the annual season of charity fund-raising comes around, where does everyone turn for auction and raffle items? I don’t see a lot of donations from GE and PPD. (Bid on a new drug trial for you and four of your friends! Or, up for auction: an original lump of enriched uranium!) But I do see beautiful paintings, incredible sculptures, autographed books, and lots of musical performances, as well as food donated by local restaurants— but not much from Sam‘s Club. Without arts and the artists of this community, one wonders what the fate of the Carousel Center that has a big fund-raising show at Thalian Hall every year would be? How about Empty Bowls, an event to benefit Good Shepherd Soup Kitchen and Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, which pivots on the donation of hundreds of handmade bowls by local sculptors and potters?
I don’t know if we need an arts council or not in Wilmington, but I do know there is no question that we need the arts.