By Joel Walsh
Arts and cultural organizations bring more than live music, gallery openings and theatrical performances to Northwest Arkansas.
They also provide hundreds of jobs and generate millions of dollars in spending, according to an Americans for the Arts study.
The study, released earlier in October, indicated 25 nonprofit organizations employed 1,091 people and generated $30.9 million in spending in Washington and Benton counties in fiscal 2010. Coupled with $14.6 million arts patrons spent outside of admission costs, $45.5 million rippled through the regional economy in the form of employees’ salaries, supply purchases and dinners in restaurants, according to the study. The spending generated nearly $4 million for the state and local governments.
“Arts and culture is an industry,” said Terri Trotter, chief operating officer for the Walton Arts Center. “Not only do we enhance quality of life, we return money to state and local coffers, and we generate economic activity in general.”
A presentation held Oct. 10 came in advance of a multimillion-dollar capital campaign arts center officials are planning. A launch date hasn’t been set. Donors will be asked to help pay for a 2,200-seat performing arts center in Bentonville and a $20 million renovation to the Fayetteville campus.
The 165-seat Starr Theater will be expanded. A new lobby and backstage area will be added, and the center’s administrative offces will be rebuilt.
Arts center officials and representatives from several organizations analyzed in the study reviewed results of the economic impact analysis Wednesday. The Walton Arts Center, Northwest Arkansas Council and Bentonville/Bella Vista Chamber of
Commerce paid for the study. Northwest Arkansas was one of 182 regions analyzed by the Washington-based nonprofi t group that advocates for investment in the arts and arts education.
Arts related jobs and expenditures have nearly tripled in Northwest Arkansas since the last study in 2005. Seventeen organizations participated in the 2005 study.
A new Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art no doubt played a big role in elevated 2010 numbers.
The Bentonville museum didn’t open until November 2011, but 50 full-time employees were on staff the year prior, according to Diane Carroll, media relations manager. The museum employs about 130 people, Carroll said. She said she was unable to immediately provide information on Crystal Bridge’s annual operating budget Wednesday.
While Crystal Bridges clearly has been the biggest recent driver of arts and cultural economic growth, it hasn’t been the only one.
Gaye Bland, director of the Rogers Historical Museum, said oft -the-street attendance grew from about 4,500 visitors in 2009 to 5,300 visitors in 2011. Attendance has been up 25 percent or more so far this year, Bland said.
“I’ve got to think that’s probably where we’re seeing an impact from Crystal Bridges,” Bland said.
She also credited a new marketing campaign and a popular Civil War exhibit for the increase.
Springdale’s Arts Center of the Ozarks hasn’t had a similar spike in attendance, according to Kathi Blundell, administrative director. A $1.1 million renovation could change that, though.
The renovation, which includes a new facade, seating, flooring and light and sound equipment, will stimulate the local economy, Blundell said. Materials have been purchased in Northwest Arkansas, and, for the most part, local contractors are doing the work.
Blundell said economic impact studies are helpful in demonstrating to donors how an investment in the arts is an investment worth making.
“If we’re successful, we turn around and invest that money right back into the community,” she said.