PCA aims to find out how much local arts are worth

If you’re leaving a concert this year, and some stranger walks up to you to ask what you had for dinner, or where you’re sleeping that night, do not—I repeat—do not be alarmed. It’s only a study, spearheaded by the Piedmont Council for the Arts, which aims to determine just how great an impact spending by arts organizations and their audiences has on the local economy.

Piedmont Council for the Arts Executive Director Maggie Guggenheimer raised $7,500 to bankroll an Americans for the Arts study, which will determine exactly what effect the arts have on the local economy.

It seems like a no-brainer. You can’t spit in this town without hitting an art gallery, music venue or theater. But what local officials don’t know is the effect that their investment in the arts can have on the broad economic picture, a question that’s particularly relevant during a recession, when there is the tendency to place funding for the arts below other essential services. When the results are released in 2012, business owners, artists and officials will gain an essential tool in deciding how, exactly, our community should value the arts.

“What we’re up against is the idea that the arts are a luxury,” says PCA Executive Director Maggie Guggenheimer. “What a study like this helps relay is that arts spending is not just for art’s sake.” Indeed, Americans for the Arts—which administers the study on the national scale—claims that every dollar invested in the arts yields seven more in economic activity. The message? Even in a time of lack, the arts are a good investment because they get people spending. (Nationally, the organization found in 2005 that the nonprofit arts and culture industry generated $166.2 billion in economic activity annually.)

PCA released results from a more informal study in 2003, which found that the arts sector had an economic impact of more than $29 million in a 50 mile radius of Charlottesville—the equivalent of 357 full-time jobs. Though that study was conducted before the recession, PCA expects that the economic footprint of the arts should be much larger this time, with the launch of the John Paul Jones Arena (which opened in 2006) and mid-level venues like the Jefferson Theater (reopened 2009) and Charlottesville Pavilion (2005)—all of which draw thousands from out of town for tunes, grub and lodging. (City spokesman Ric Barrick echoed that sentiment in an e-mail.)

Here’s how it’ll work: A small team of volunteers will be dispatched to venues across town, from concerts at JPJ to Virginia Foundation for the Humanities events to ask how you’re spending money while in the area. During 2011, over 900 questionnaires will be collected and analyzed to determine how much organizations and their audiences spent, how many jobs were generated, and how much tax revenue was created by that spending.

Answer honestly, and the truth—and perhaps more funding for the arts—will be your reward. Visit www.charlottesville
arts.org for more details.

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