Advocates Hail Fed's Report On Art's Economic Punch

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The National Endowment for the Arts and U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis produced the report.

Sunil Iyengar, the NEA’s Research and Analysis Director, says it’s part of a movement to better gauge art’s economic clout, with guidelines based on ones crafted in Europe, Canada, and Latin America.

“So this is an international movement to try to capture, really an undervalued sector, which is essentially, if you think about it, the ideas-driven or innovative portion of our economy.”

Those accustomed to thinking of the arts as purely opera or Picasso may be surprised that radio and TV broadcasting, advertising, book and newspaper publishing, and video game design are considered arts commodities as well. That Kabuki theater and Van Gogh have been lumped in with the likes of The Howard Stern Show and Super Mario Brothers may rankle some arts purists.

“Video game design certainly employs a lot of imagination and really, artistic ability in many cases, in terms of the design component that goes into it," explains Iyengar. "Design is very much in the province of the arts. I can say that the NEA itself funds design, including design of video games, because we realize that’s an important area of arts and culture.”

Bottom line, the report concludes: art is a powerful economic force.

3.2 percent of the GDP is substantial, considering tourism and travel made up just 2.8 percent the same year – and that’s just two years out of the Great Recession. In the decade prior, arts and cultural production peaked three times at 3.7 percent of GDP. And exports – namely movies and TV shows – remained strong even during the recession.

“I’m a big advocate, use this not only as a pride, but as big economic asset that we can build on,” says Iryna Lendellis, the Assistant Director of the Center for Economic Development, at the Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State. She says the arts have gone largely unrecognized for their economic potential, and says the report helps make the case for further -- and increased -- funding from all sources.

"We have very big movement now funding technology startups, that are just…we’re funding them on their promise. And I think if we just treat art as industries, we can look at their creative and innovative ideas, and justify the funding for small organizations.”

Kristen Puch says the federal findings build on their previous research of Cuyahoga County’s music industry, which showed a total economic impact of $840 million. Puch is Research and Advancement Director for the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture. She says the federal report also highlights the importance of arts organizations ACROSS Northeast Ohio.

“Not only as economic drivers in those communities, they help define a sense of place and define the individual characters that go into those places that people want to live and work in, and even the tourists want to come to,” she says.

And there’s more research in the works. Next year, Puch and Lendell plan to release an economic report on crafts and visual art in the region….to be followed by another study on the performing arts.

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