INVESTMENTS IN THE ARTS have a return on investment for individuals, neighborhoods and cities. This has been true for centuries. Powerful countries have invested their riches in public art, architecture and music, and those investments play a role in showcasing economic strength and desirability. People flock to cities and regions to see these works, and the arts directly improve the quality of life a place offers its residents. The arts economy aggregates all of these investments and activities so we can measure the economic impact or the dollar amount the arts contributes to the overall economy.
The arts economy has never been more important. As Kenny McDonald, CEO of Columbus 2020, said, “A strong cultural community conveys that your place is engaging and open. Smart and creative people seek interesting work, interesting places in which to do their work and opportunities to work with interesting people.” The presence of a dynamic arts scene is evidence of a community’s ability to serve the needs of both up-and-coming and top talent, which helps to attract and retain top employers.
Columbus is fortunate to have the Greater Columbus Arts Council (GCAC) to support the arts and advance culture of the region. The GCAC funds exemplary artists and arts organizations and provide programs, events and services of public value that educate and engage all audiences in our community. The GCAC also provides periodic reporting on the breadth of the Columbus arts economy.
The Columbus arts economy generates $226 million in economic activity and supports 8,500 jobs. It is a huge economic force of artists, museum workers, arts marketers and more. When we add in the for-profit creative sector, Columbus is an arts powerhouse with over $3 billion in annual receipts and 25,000 jobs. In 2011, for every public dollar invested by the city in arts and culture, $34.57 was pumped back into the local economy from other sources, including earned income by arts organizations. That is a superb return on investment and it speaks volumes to the benefits of art investments for economic development.
The GCAC reporting also highlights the vital role arts organizations play as they contributed more than $79 million to the Columbus economy through direct expenditures. In addition, these organizations’ programming provided more than 4.3 million arts experiences for Columbus residents and served 369,000 school children.
Now that we have data on the arts economy, how can we identify growth opportunities and raise the bar higher? A few years ago, Mayor Michael B. Coleman commissioned a study of how to increase funding for tourism and the arts. The study found that an additional $8.6 million is needed to sustain the arts, create jobs and increase tourism. Since then, the city budget has included funding increases for tourism and arts. Mayor Coleman also identified a growth opportunity in city’s hotel bed tax. This tax is a standard practice of local governments across the United States to generate revenue from visitors who use public services but do not pay local taxes as residents do.
The local bed tax was traditionally divided almost 50-50 between the Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority and the City of Columbus. The city would then divide its share five ways, with Experience Columbus, the Greater Columbus Arts Council, the Columbus Housing Trust Corporation, human-services agencies and the city’s general revenue fund each getting a cut.
Two years ago, the City of Columbus restructured the hotel bed tax. Columbus now gives its cut entirely to tourism, arts and human-services spending. As a result, funding for the arts increased by $700,000 or 24.5 percent over the previous year. Mayor Coleman also signed an executive order to establish the new Columbus Public Art Program, which will allocate a minimum of $250,000 per year to public art projects. I would like to see public art projects in the form of painting the street, murals, sculptures—basically anything that creates visual interest and surprise, which also slows down vehicular traffic.
A great way for you to support the local arts is to attend the Columbus Arts Festival on June 6 - 8 this year. The festival hosts hundreds of juried artists from across the United States, as well as several international artists. Last year, nearly 450,000 people were in attendance and more than $200,000 was raised for arts programming in the region.