Discovering the Value of the Arts to Regional Economic Prosperity


While the public is excited about the next new thing in technology and arts and entertainment, some of our local arts administrators, known among themselves as “nerds with class,” will be hard at work this year on two complementary arts and culture assessments.

The purpose of these assessments ultimately is to establish a broad understanding of the measurable economic impact of arts and culture in Central Oregon.

In the case of one project, specific action items will be recommended to further support the positive role of arts and culture in the economic growth of our communities. Investing the time and energy on these efforts this year will lay the groundwork for an ever improving arts and culture climate in Central Oregon into the future and thus improve the economic development outlook.

One study, the current Arts & Economic Prosperity, is the fifth such study by the national Americans for the Arts to measure the economic impact of America’s nonprofit arts and culture industry. Every day, more than 100,000 nonprofit arts and culture organizations act as economic drivers in this country — creating an industry that supports jobs, generates government revenue and is the cornerstone of the nation’s tourism industry.

This study documents the key role played by the nonprofit arts and culture industry, and their audiences, in strengthening our nation’s economy.

A total of 322 study regions across the United States signed up to participate in the study. Seven Oregon regions or towns are participating with support from the Oregon Arts Commission. In the Central Oregon Region, the study will be conducted by the Arts and Culture Alliance of Central Oregon and will be underway soon.

In 2014, the Western States Arts Foundation (WESTAF) produced what they called a Creative Vitality Suite. Perhaps better named a Creative Vitality Sweep, the study included a snapshot of the arts in the Central Oregon region of Deschutes, Jefferson and Crook counties.

The study located 2,607 creative jobs with total creative industry earnings pegged at $156.5 million. Cultural nonprofit revenues totaled $10.6 million. However, grant earnings were down by 48 percent in 2013 and 2014.

(Note: grant earnings may be on the rise, but the industry as a whole took a major and in some cases fatal blow in donated revenue.)

This study does not appear to have captured the financial ripple effect of, for instance, a theatre performance. Members of the Arts and Culture Alliance will be in theatre lobbies, art venues and galleries surveying people about the amount they spent while out for the evening in food, libations and other “evening out” expenses. This will provide a more complete picture of the impact of the arts.

Arts Central, while best known for our arts education programs, is also the Regional Arts and Culture Council for Central Oregon and as such undertakes various regional service projects. In that role we are engaged with the Central Oregon Regional Solutions Advisory Committee (CORSAC) in an economic development project called the Creative Economy Action Plan.

First a word about Regional Solutions.Regional Solutions is an innovative, collaborative approach to community and economic development in Oregon. The state, in partnership with Oregon colleges and universities, established Regional Solutions Centers throughout Oregon. Starting at the local level to identify priorities, each center works from the bottom up to solve problems and complete projects. These centers integrate state agency work and funding to ensure that projects are finished as quickly and cost-effectively as possible.​​

In 2015 our regional branch, CORSAC, broke new ground when it became the only Regional Solutions Center in the state to set arts and culture as an economic priority for its region. Arts and culture now rubs shoulders with other laudable priorities such as establishing Oregon State University Cascades Campus and improving affordable housing
and transportation.

Through the statewide Regional Solutions lens of job creation, CORSAC and Arts Central focused immediately on crafting a way forward with the goal of landing on concrete action steps that would support the arts and culture sector’s ability to, in turn, support regional economic de-
velopment efforts.

In the fall of last year, Arts Central submitted a grant proposal to the Oregon Cultural Trust to fund the Creative Economy Action Plan. The proposal was granted and, combined with support from other generous donors, Arts Central contracted Paul Nicholson, the recently retired executive director of the wildly successful Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. Nicholson is responsible for taking the festival from a modest regional affair to a knock out program on the national stage ,and is more than qualified to take on this visionary project with a strategic approach.

The project officially kicked off the beginning of 2016. The first step is to inventory existing organizations, identify how many people they employ and determine the payroll of each organization. The inventory is not limited to nonprofits, but includes and broader definition of the creative economy such as guitar makers and architects. The inventory will conclude in February and the next phase of work may include analyzing the data to locate existing intersections, potential relationships, collaborations, partnerships or mergers.

Gaps in programming, facilities and funding weaknesses will no doubt emerge. Then the fun begins. Stay tuned for the draft of actionable recommendations this spring.

Meanwhile, back on the ground, we took a quick informal survey of colleagues from Sisters, Sunriver, Redmond and Bend and concluded that overall, the arts and culture sector is holding steady. Redmond received the Ben Westlund Memorial Award from the Deschutes Cultural Coalition last year to commend the city for its adherence to the highest aesthetic standards and incorporation of the arts in its downtown redevelopment.

Visit Bend granted its first round of funding through its Bend Cultural Tourism Fund last year and is gearing up again for the 2016 funding cycle. Oregon State University Cascades Campus is taking a deep look at their potential role in the regional arts scene and how that may influence their campus design process.

As we have seen in this brief recap, a number of positive factors are converging, a great amount of focus will be placed on analyzing the economic development role of arts and culture and we predict the results will be revealing and inspirational.

Cate O’Hagan is executive director of Arts Central, 15 SW Colorado, Bldg. II, Suite 100, 541-749-2291


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