Sweet Jesus, the Arts Are Good for the Economy

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PMA Fireworks
Fireworks over the Philadelphia Museum of Art Credit: Photo by G. Widman for GPTMC

It should come as a shock to no one that art and money coil around each other in an inseparable double helix. Often when we think about art and money, it’s about how much individual artworks cost private collectors at auction or at exclusive galleries. But the relationship between art and money can show itself in a completely different way: not money hording art, but art stimulating money-and not just as an investment for a collector, but for an entire public economy in a city or across a region.

As we’ve mentioned before, the arts boost the economy. This seems like the kind of idea liberals agree with and conservatives dispute, but politicizing the issue is a canard. It’s an empirical question with a definitive answer: the arts boost the economy. This fact is reinforced with each new study.

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PMA Fireworks
Fireworks over the Philadelphia Museum of Art
Credit: Photo by G. Widman for GPTMC

Earlier this year, Americans for the Arts published an extensive report on the felicitous impact the nonprofit arts and culture industry has on the economy across the country. The “Arts & Economic Prosperity IV” study is a valuable document with tons of detailed information drawn from 182 geographical regions.

Based on that national study, the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance (GPCA) recently released its focused report on “Arts, Culture & Economic Prosperity in Greater Philadelphia” (PDF available here). GPCA has some eye-popping findings. The highlights:

Southeastern Pennsylvania’s cultural organizations and their audiences have a combined impact of $3.3 billion on the region’s economy.

Arts and culture supports 44,000 full-time equivalent jobs throughout the region.

Arts and culture returns $1.04 billion in household income to Southeastern Pennsylvania residents.

Cultural tourism is a valuable asset for the region, injecting nearly $230 million in direct spending into the economy.

The GPCA is justifiably proud of their arts community: Southeastern Pennsylvania ranks first in the nation in actual jobs created in the arts, and second-behind Washington, DC-in direct expenditure on the arts. (New York City wasn’t included in those rankings or the Americans for the Arts report because local officials found that it would be too expensive to study a region and arts community of such size and complexity.)

Met Museum
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Photo by Carol M. Highsmith / via

Speaking of New York City, around the same time GPCA released its report, we learned (via the indispensible Hyperallergic) that The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced its own stratospheric economic impact number. The Met says it was responsible for $781 million in local stimulus based on three of the museum’s 2012 summer exhibitions. That’s more than three-quarters of $1 billion just this summer. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who tried (twice, both times unsuccessfully) to cut her state’s arts funding to zero, needs to take a deep breath and think about that for a moment.

The Met’s summer shows highlighted in the announcement were “Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations,” “Tom√°s Saraceno on the Roof: Cloud City” and “The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde.” Just imagine how much economic impact the museum could have generated if they’d been showing Monet Water Lilies!