How much do the arts affect the economy in North Texas? Turns out, a lot, and it’s jumped up big-time in five years. A new, nationwide study finds that the non-profit cultural sector’s economic impact has tripled. That’s right. Tripled. The study is called Arts & Economic Prosperity, and it’s the largest arts impact study of its kind.

Arts & Economic Prosperity finds that the local arts and culture industry supports almost 53,000 full-time employees in the region. In comparison, American Airlines, which is headquartered in Fort Worth, employs around 30,000 people locally.

Says Katherine Wagner: “So this would be like having almost two great American Airlines headquarters here, with all of the benefits of having those employees right here in North Texas.”

Wagner is CEO of the Business Council for the Arts in North Texas.  This is the second time her group has worked as the local partner for the national study, which is  produced every five years by Americans for the Arts, an arts and education advocacy group. [Officially, this study is Arts & Economic Prosperity 5.] The study indicates the economic impact of the arts in North Texas has grown from $500 million to almost $1.5 billion in five years.

“So it’s a significant leap,” says Wagner. “It’s more validation for how important it is for our region to attract cultural visitors because cultural visitors pay substantially more. They buy more refreshments, they will stay the night in a hotel, whereas most in-county visitors don’t do that. So how can we do more of that?”

In Irving, the the study found:

  • $25.4 million in direct economic activity
  • 1,031 full-time equivalent jobs
  • $2.6 million in local and state revenue generated

The non-profit cultural sector actually tripling in size in five years may seem unlikely — the population of North Texas did not come close to tripling. But consider that the Arts & Economic Prosperity studies use the most recently available financial data. So the new study actually reflects our status in 2015, and the previous one reflected the situation in 2010.

That year, we were still suffering from the Great Recession, yet the ATTPAC had just opened – and was widely criticized as being a waste of money or a serious miscalculation because the recession was a significant reason the ATTPAC opened with some major construction debt remaining. Yet the new Wyly Theatre and the Winspear Opera House aren’t simply the homes of the Dallas Opera and the Dallas Theater Center. Since 2010, the Lexus Broadway Series launched and so did Off-Broadway on Flora. And all the other series and organizations began using those spaces as home (the Dallas Black Dance Theatre, TITAS, the Elevator Project, etc.). Then there was the City Performance Hall, which opened in 2012.

Also, between 2010 and 2015, the Dallas Art Fair was established, the Perot Museum of Science and Nature opened, the Oak Cliff Cultural Center opened, the late Bruce Wood re-started his choreographic carer with the Bruce Wood Dance Project, the Dallas Contemporary moved into its expansive new home, the DMA announced its new free-admissions policy, Aurora began, the Crow Collection of Asian Art significantly expanded both its gallery space and store and dozens of smaller outfits were born (Dark Circles Contemporary Dance, Deep Vellum books, the Wild Detectives, the Danielle Georgiou Dance Company, the DSO’s Remix series).

The Nasher Sculpture Prize was established, Dallas’ Design District became a major new home for art galleries, and, of course, Klyde Warren Park was established.

Most of that frenzy of activity was just in and around the Dallas Arts District. In Fort Worth, for instance, the Kimbell opened its Renzo Piano Pavilion, the Cliburn expanded its offerings, Amphibian Stage Productions moved into its new home, the Near Southside took off and Sundance Square was reconfigured.

Seen in this light, the new Arts & Economic Prosperity study actually gives us perspective on just how explosive those years were for the non-profit cultural community in North Texas. In effect, we are still scrambling to catch up with that explosion and are riding its rippling after-shocks. It’s little surprise, then, that the Dallas Arts District is considering a new master plan for its future, so is the city of Fort Worth and so is Dallas’ Office of Cultural Affairs, which is trying to catch up with years of deferred maintenance, let alone this huge expansion and what it means.

Nationwide, the study found the non-profit arts industry produces $166.3 billion in economic activity per year. In addition, it supports 4.6 million full-time jobs. The new study tracked 131 cities and towns throughout the US.  [It’s worth noting New York City and Los Angeles did not participate. But then, the for-profit culture industries in both cities – filmmaking, TV, Broadway – make them anomalous. So for the rest of America, the comparisons are apples to apples – as long as the city, region or cultural district actually participated in the study.]

In North Texas, seven cities and cultural districts participated including Dallas, Fort Worth, Irving, Lewisville and Richardson. According to Wagner, more than 90 percent of the non-profit arts groups in those areas contributed their data to the study – compared to an average of 50 percent nationwide.

Presented by KERA – June 29, 2017

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