Click here to see the studies' findings in Nebraska and Iowa communities.
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Picture a Nebraska industry with 400 small businesses generating $175 million in economic activity each year through 3.8 million sales transactions. They're responsible for 6,500 jobs and $18 million in local and state taxes.
Now, add that industry's unique ability to create joy, add beauty, inspire big ideas and make the state a better place to live.
That's the picture painted, if you will, by the first statewide economic impact study of musicians, actors, painters, dancers and others who make up Nebraska's arts and culture sector.
“We often forget that the number of individuals who work in this industry is substantial,” said Omaha businessman Todd Simon, a longtime donor to arts groups. “That's a lot of money that's circulating in our community.”
Simon's family owns Omaha Steaks, a nationally known business that, by comparison, employs one-third as many people as the economic survey attributed to the state's arts groups. The study, he said, “goes to prove what a lot of us have known for a long time: The arts are a significant and positive economic benefit to our community.”
The study, made public today, generates numbers intended to help arts backers appeal to donors, solidify tax support and broaden public understanding of how the arts fit into the state's economy.
The study estimated that Nebraska's nonprofit arts and cultural organizations have a $174.4 million annual economic impact and support 6,475 jobs, with Omaha and Lincoln accounting for four out of every five dollars and three out of every four jobs.
Separately, three regions of Iowa also examined the impact of the arts in their communities, although Iowans didn't conduct a statewide study. A partial estimate for Iowa put the annual impact at about $138 million and 4,600 jobs in three regions of the state.
The studies estimated 3.8 million people a year attend events in Nebraska and more than 3.5 million in the Iowa regions. (One person attending three events counts as three in the attendance figures.)
Such figures make nonprofit arts groups “a significant industry for a state of Nebraska's size,” said Suzanne Wise, executive director of the Nebraska Arts Council, which supported the study with a $16,000 grant. “They deserve the same kind of consideration that we give other industries, such as agriculture or other manufacturing sectors. They're really important for the future of our state.”
Marjorie Maas, director of Nebraskans for the Arts and coordinator of the study, said the figures are conservative estimates.
“I think people realize the community-building aspect of the arts, but they don't always realize that the arts give back to the economy in substantial, tangible economic ways,” Maas said.
She called the economic impact on Omaha, estimated at nearly $90 million a year, remarkable. “We love that indirectly and directly, 3,400 jobs are affected in Omaha by the arts. That's real household income. You can feel it not only in the theater, but you can feel it in the restaurants, you can feel it in the hotels, you can feel it in businesses that surround arts centers.
“We hope that this study changes the lens that the arts are seen through. Not only do the arts bring joy and entertainment to people's lives, but they also support the community in real ways.”
The study estimated that Nebraska arts organizations account for $8.3 million in local taxes and $10.4 million in state taxes a year, including sales taxes on spending by audiences and income taxes from arts-related jobs. The partial Iowa estimate was $6.6 million in local taxes and $6.8 million in state taxes.
It's tempting to think of Omaha's arts organizations as only “icing on the cake” when it comes to the economy, said David Brown, CEO of the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce. Cultural groups create a sense of place for the city and enhance its qualify of life, he said, but one shouldn't underestimate the economic impact.
“If you're trying to make the case that the arts are an important cog in the economy and the quality of life in a community or state, these are exactly the kinds of numbers that you want to have,” Brown said.
Like any industry, he said, the arts must find supportive customers to continue. “Ultimately the tickets purchased and sold drive the budgets of the organizations.”
The Nebraska and Iowa studies are part of a nationwide look at the economic impact of nonprofit arts and cultural groups by Americans for the Arts, a nonprofit arts advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. The national study, done every four years, showed $135.2 billion in economic activity in 2010, supporting 4.2 million jobs and generating $23 billion in state, local and federal tax revenue.
Wise, from the Nebraska Arts Council, said the Omaha figures support “the whole idea of Omaha being a really interesting place to live. That's what young professionals want, a community with a vibrant arts scene. Omaha seems to be providing that.”
The study also indicated that Nebraskans outside Omaha and Lincoln show a significant interest in the arts, she said, roughly in line with the state's non-urban population numbers.
Maas, from Nebraskans for the Arts, said the study's results will be useful in grant applications, in fundraising appeals to the business community and for discussions about tax support for the arts, even in communities and for groups that weren't included directly in the study.
“We feel we have good support in Nebraska, but that is not the case in every state,” she said. Last year, Kansas became the first state to close its state arts commission, ending state and federal tax funding for the arts. But last week, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback restored $700,000 in funding for the arts, although under a different structure.
“Nebraska has a lot to be proud of,” Maas said. “This just helps support the case for the arts giving back and not just taking from the communities.”
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