Why the arts matter to the economy…

November 26, 2012

The Arts Economy Initiative at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs is a decades-long project on artists, their livelihoods, the organizations that nurture and present their artwork, and contributions, along with arts organizations and cultural industries, to regional and local economies. This is a very good series of publications on why the cultural arts matter in terms of economic benefits to communities.

Amy Kitchener and Ann Markusen’s “Working with Small Arts Organizations: How and Why it Matters” explores how small arts organizations pop up, flourish, and sometimes flounder mostly under the philanthropic radar. Shows how they enrich our culture and engaging diverse and underserved communities, often fostering artistic expressions not adequately served by larger organizations. Uses Alliance for California Traditional Arts’ (ACTA) intermediary work in the Community Leadership Project (1) and our joint field research on small organizations for the James Irvine Foundation-funded California’s Arts and Cultural Ecology (2011) to show how small arts organizations are undercounted, how they differ from larger organizations, and how broad-ranging, sustainable and valuable they are. Shares ways that funders can better work with smaller arts nonprofits to further their missions.

Ann Markusen and Anne Gadwa’s Creative Placemaking (2010)commissioned by the Mayors’ Institute on City Design, a leadership initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with the United States Conference of Mayors and American Architectural Foundation, explores the livability and economic development outcomes of creative placemaking, whereby cross-sector partners strategically shape the physical and social character of locales around arts and cultural activities. The research summarizes two decades of creative American placemaking, drawing on original economic research and case studies of pathbreaking initiatives in large and small cities, metropolitan to rural.

Another recent study, Artists’ Centers: Evolution and Impact on Careers, Neighborhoods and Economies (2006), argues that cities and towns that have invested in dedicated spaces to nurture artists and bring them together with their publics multiply the impact of charitable and public sector dollars and help to revitalize neighborhoods, as well as creating “more and better” artists. Here, artists come together to vet their work, find encouragement and feedback, view masters in their fields, share studio space and equipment, and interact with audiences. This research was funded by the McKnight Foundation and Markusen’s Fesler-Lampert Chair at the University.

The Artistic Dividend (2003) and The Artistic Dividend Revisited (2004) argue that artists make hidden contributions to regional economies because they are often self-employed and not acknowledged in regional job counts or arts impact analysis. They may export their work by publishing it elsewhere, traveling to perform, selling it over the internet or at high end art fairs, and winning awards and commission from elsewhere. They also, by working on contract, make area non-arts businesses more productive and competitive in many ways—for example, writing, editing, directing, and acting in scripts and videos for marketing, designing and writing products and services, improving employee relations through play-acting, enhancing work environments through installations of their work. In addition, they often induce innovation on the part of their suppliers. This under-appreciated role constitutes a strong rationale for public support of the arts and particularly in ways that enable artists to build careers and network with each other.

The Arts Economy Initiative’s research documents the significance of artists’ presence in metropolitan areas across the US using Census data, surveys and interview sources, much of it published in scholarly journals (see the website list). The work shows that artists are relatively footloose and are attracted not only by the presence of other artists and sectors employing artists but also by strong philanthropic institutions at the regional level, a population that patronizes the arts, environmental and cultural amenities and livable neighborhoods with affordable housing. In a forthcoming book, The Distinctive City, we show that the cities that are successful in “home-growing” artists and attracting and keeping them are not necessarily the largest or fastest-growing metropolitan areas—a set of second tier cities have done very well by cultivating the arts. Many smaller towns and urban neighborhoods have figured out ways of nurturing artists in their midst as well. Among other arguments, we stress the under-appreciated potential of arts and cultural investments in the local consumption base as economic development.

The Arts Economy Initiative’s work is tailored around issues of concern to artists, arts organizations, and cultural and economic development policymakers. In addition to our published work, we have given dozens of high profile talks around the US, Europe, Japan, Korea, China, and Brazil, often for large public audiences of mixed interests and in cities of many sizes, and frequently involving private consultations with civic and arts leaders in conjunction. Markusen and her team’s work has been extensively cited in various media.

You can find more publications here.

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