While we all know the inherent cultural worth of the arts, they're not exactly known for their revenue-generating capabilities. Let's face it . . . no college counselor ever suggested the road to economic stability was paved with conceptual art and experimental filmmaking.
But a newly-released pair of surveys from the Houston Arts Alliance (HAA) and Rice University's Kinder Institute of Urban Studies suggests that the age-old "art won't put food on the table, kid" philosophy has run its course.
The reports finally give the Houston art scene its due — not just for its social and educational contributions to the city — but for its unique role in creating jobs, increasing tourism and encouraging the relocation of residents from other parts of the country.
According to the Arts & Economic Prosperity report, the greater Houston area maintains a nonprofit arts community and culture industry that generates a whopping $977.7 million in annual economic activity.
Houston leaders, including Mayor Annise Parker, recently gathered at the Hilton–Americas for a mini-conference dedicated to unveiling and analyzing the new survey data as well as information from the HAA's glowing August report on the city's creative economy.
Organized with the Greater Houston Partnership, a special "Business of the Arts" luncheon focused on the Arts & Economic Prosperity report, a study commissioned every five years by the HAA and the national organization Americans for the Arts.
According to the survey, the greater 10-country region maintains a nonprofit arts community and culture industry that generates a whopping $977.7 million in annual economic activity. As organizations purchase supplies, pay employees and contract for a variety of services, arts groups throughout the region support 29,118 full-time jobs and contribute $130 million to local and state government revenues.
During a speech at the event, Americans for the Arts CEO Robert Lynch described the nation's small arts communities as "secret weapons" to local economies, encouraging attendees to stress the growing monetary value of the arts to their supporters. Since 2005, spending from nonprofit arts organizations in Harris County has jumped 39 percent.
This city loves its art
At a small press conference following the luncheon, Kinder co-director and Rice University sociologist Stephen Klineberg discussed the findings of the 2012 Houston Arts Survey, which puts the numbers behind Houstonians strong commitment to the local arts community.
"We asked a random sample of 1,200 Harris County residents how they experience the arts in their lives and we were absolutely surprised by the general public's support," he said, noting that 35 to 56 percent (roughly 46 percent average) of area residents would rather have excellent music and theater rather than great sports teams and stadiums.
The report also revealed that ethnic background played virtually no role in attendance rates to art events, suggesting art and arts education as possible avenues to address the city's changing demographics.
"This is the most ethnically-diverse city in America," he explained. "We are where all of America will be in 30 years. This is where the American future will be worked out and it's our destiny to manage this remarkable demographic transformation . . . The arts are absolutely essential in this."