The argument that the arts more than make up in good karma whatever they cost in hard cash is a common one in legislative chambers, foundation boardrooms and newspaper editorial columns around the world. Life is more than the bottom line, goes the refrain, and a community with a thriving arts scene just feels better.
That argument's still true. But, thanks to a new set of numbers put together by a national advocacy group, it's not the only, or necessarily the best, one available. The arts, it turns out, pay big dividends. And the dividends could be bigger if business leaders and local government, particularly the City of Buffalo, made larger investments.
Americans for the Arts has penciled out that the economic impact of just the nonprofit arts and cultural organizations in Erie and Niagara counties amounts to some $155 million a year. That's the total of the $93 million spent by the cultural organizations themselves -- on artists, staff, printing, construction, marketing, etc. -- and the $62 million on events-related spending by audience members -- dinner, parking, snacks, baby sitters and, for the many out-of-towners, hotels. That spending creates the equivalent of 4,740 full-time jobs, plus all of the economic activity created by the money that those employees spend around the community.
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of arts funding is the portion of it -- less than you might think -- that comes from taxpayers' money. Nationally, tax support for nonprofit arts and cultural organizations from federal, state and local governments adds up to some $4 billion a year. The return on investment all those local governments get in the form of tax revenue is some $30 billion -- a return on investment of 7 to 1.
Locally, nonprofit cultural organizations generate some $24 million in state and local taxes, even though they receive very little in the form of local government financial support. Little, as in nothing at all from the City of Buffalo, $5.3 million from Erie County and $12,000 from Niagara County.
More money for the arts would not just go to making the walls pretty or the summer air melodious. It would pay off, over and over, for a city that needs returns on investments and the good feelings that an active arts community gets.