Arts non­profit groups draw mil­lions in spend­ing

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - DAN HOLTMEYER

North­west Arkansas arts and cul­ture groups draw hun­dreds of thou­sands of vis­i­tors and pump tens of mil­lions of dol­lars into the re­gion’s econ­omy, a sur­vey re­leased last week found. Amer­i­cans for the Arts, a Wa s h - in­g­ton, D.C.-based non­profit group that pro­motes ac­cess to the arts, pegged the eco­nomic im­pact of 23 lo­cal artis­tic non­prof­its at $131 mil­lion, or al­most $300 per res­i­dent, in 2015. The spend­ing was about evenly split between the groups’ ex­pen­di­tures and what in­di­vid­u­als paid for food, lodg­ings and so on.

The fig­ure is a tiny slice of the metropoli­tan area’s multi­bil­lion- dol­lar an­nual econ­omy, but it also likely un­der­counts the tan­gi­ble and in­tan­gi­ble im­pact of the arts as a whole, ex­perts and res­i­dents said last week. The re­port doesn’t in­clude for-profit artists and per­for­mances, such as a singer’s con­cert at the Wal­mart Arkansas Mu­sic Pav­il­ion, or dozens of area non­profit groups who didn’t take part in the sur­vey.

Non­profit group lead­ers said the re­port, above all, shows mu­sic, art and his­tory have be­come an es­sen­tial piece of the re­gion’s cul­ture and well-be­ing.

“It’s not just an artsy-fartsy thing; it’s some­thing that has eco­nomic im­pact and a real im­pact on peo­ple’s daily lives,” said Robert Gins­burg, direc­tor of the North­west Arkansas Jazz So­ci­ety, which or­ga­nizes con­certs and other events and par­tic­i­pated in the study.

The re­port is part of a na­tion­wide ef­fort to eval­u­ate the arts’ im­pact on about 340 ci­ties and re­gions. North­west Arkansas’ num­bers come from spend­ing data from Crys­tal Bridges Mu­seum of Amer­i­can Art, the Wal­ton Arts Cen­ter and about 20 other non­profit groups, along with sur­veys of sev­eral hun­dred event at­ten­dees.


Those or­ga­ni­za­tions drew about 1.8 mil­lion at­ten­dees in 2015, the re­port found, in­clud­ing al­most half a mil­lion from out­side Ben­ton and Washington coun­ties. Most of the out­siders sur­veyed said they came specif­i­cally for the art or cul­tural event they were at­tend­ing.

Dan and Becky Ross, for ex­am­ple, said Thurs­day they came from south­ern Mis­souri for the day to see Crys­tal Bridges in Ben­tonville. As they waited for it to open, a staff mem­ber men­tioned the nearby Mu­seum of Na­tive Amer­i­can His­tory, a study par­tic­i­pant that dis­plays ar­row­heads and spear­heads as small as dimes or as big as a hand, as well as or­na­ments, tex­tiles and other ar­ti­facts from peo­ple who’ve lived through­out the con­ti­nent for more than 10,000 years.

“We didn’t even know this was here,” Dan Ross said as the cou­ple walked among the dis­plays, adding he was sure they’d be back in the area soon. Becky Ross said she loved Crys­tal Bridges’ out­door trails, call­ing them good places to hike with chil­dren.

Groups the size of Crys­tal Bridges and the Wal­ton Arts Cen­ter likely gen­er­ate a large part of the re­port’s find­ings, given each hosts hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple a year, em­ploys hun­dreds of res­i­dents and wields an­nual op­er­at­ing bud­gets on the mag­ni­tude of $20 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to spokes­peo­ple. The study used a math­e­mat­i­cal model to es­ti­mate how much of that money is spent and changes hands mul­ti­ple times within the two-county area.

The study’s par­tic­i­pants ranged from those re­gional heavy­weights to groups as small as the Arkansas Coun­try Doc­tor Mu­seum in Lin­coln, run by one staff mem­ber and a dozen vol­un­teers in a town of about 2,000. The mu­seum com­mem­o­rates the fam­ily doc­tors who have set up in small towns across the state since the 1700s. It is housed in­side the home and of­fice of three suc­ces­sive Lin­coln physi­cians.

Each year, a few hun­dred stu­dents, for­mer pa­tients and other vis­i­tors come to see doc­tors’ old-time in­stru­ments and medicines, in­clud­ing an iron lung and tools used in the Civil War, said Diana Hale, the mu­seum’s of­fice man­ager.

“We have them from all over the world,” she said, adding peo­ple driv­ing through will of­ten stop by and go to a restau­rant af­ter­ward.

Vis­i­tors to North­west Arkansas’ non­profit groups each spent an av­er­age of $36 per event, the study found. It didn’t count ticket prices, since pre­sum­ably those dol­lars would then be spent by the groups, fac­tor­ing into their part of the equa­tion. Non­res­i­dents were a smaller group than res­i­dents but have more to pay for and spent more than $30 mil­lion, about the same as res­i­dents.

That out­side money is a good sign for es­tab­lished groups that want to keep grow­ing, said Mervin Je­baraj, in­terim direc­tor of the Univer­sity of Arkansas Cen­ter for Busi­ness and Eco­nomic Re­search.

“You want to tap out your lo­cal mar­ket, but you also want to grow your abil­ity to get rev­enues,” he said.

The non­profit arts sec­tor also helps the for-profit side, such as by pro­vid­ing an artist space to dis­play work or per­form, Je­baraj added. Down­town Ben­tonville, for ex­am­ple, runs the First Fri­day monthly events for artists, per­form­ers and other busi­nesses.

The re­port’s find­ings al­most tripled those of the pre­vi­ous sur­vey in 2010, but Amer­i­cans for the Arts cau­tioned against a straight com­par­i­son be­cause its tech­niques and re­spon­dents changed in the mean­time. Still, the jump co­in­cides with the open­ing of Crys­tal Bridges in late 2011.


Arts and cul­tural groups also bring more in­tan­gi­ble ben­e­fits, Je­baraj and others said. North­west Arkansas has ex­cep­tion­ally low un­em­ploy­ment and is home to in­ter­na­tional com­pa­nies. A vi­brant cul­tural scene makes it eas­ier to re­cruit peo­ple, par­tic­u­larly those in their 20s and 30s, to fill those com­pa­nies’ jobs, Je­baraj said.

“We couldn’t do what we do with­out it — I’ll say it’s that im­por­tant,” said Mike Har­vey, chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer of the North­west Arkansas Coun­cil, a non­profit group that aims to help grow the area’s work­force, among its many goals. While not hav­ing mu­se­ums and mu­sic of a cer­tain cal­iber might not be the deal-breaker for a given job can­di­date, he said, “if it’s ab­sent, it’s glar­ing.”

Arts groups also point to the in­her­ent value of art and his­tory. Jennifer Wil­son, a spokes­woman for the Wal­ton Arts Cen­ter, said per­for­mances can help the au­di­ence re­late to other cul­tures or dif­fer­ences. Gins­burg said mu­sic has al­ways been one of the most ba­sic and ef­fec­tive ways for hu­mans to con­nect with each other. Hale noted the value of see­ing how far medicine has come and how much it still achieved cen­turies ago.

“You don’t know how many peo­ple are look­ing for their her­itage,” said Char­lotte Buchanan-Yale, direc­tor of the Na­tive Amer­i­can mu­seum in Ben­tonville. The U.S. forced tribes to move through Arkansas on their way to Ok­la­homa, and some of the mu­seum’s 35,000 or so yearly vis­i­tors are their de­scen­dants.

“You get an­other side of Amer­i­can his­tory,” BuchananYale said, adding cre­ative minds sparked by the arts “can move moun­tains.”

The fi­nan­cial and artis­tic ben­e­fits of North­west Arkansas’ arts and cul­ture non­profit groups aren’t evenly spread. Half are clus­tered in Fayet­teville and Ben­tonville, for ex­am­ple, ac­cord­ing to a list of al­most 100 or­ga­ni­za­tions that were el­i­gi­ble for the study pro­vided by the Wal­ton Arts Cen­ter, which car­ried out the study’s sur­veys.

Vis­i­tor sur­veys found they skewed older and more ed­u­cated, with most hav­ing at least a bach­e­lor’s de­gree and a house­hold in­come above $60,000.

Peo­ple of all in­come lev­els take ad­van­tage of the area’s of­fer­ings, but the lower some­one’s in­come, the less likely they are to use even free ameni­ties, a Wal­ton Fam­ily Foun­da­tion qual­ity-of-life sur­vey found last year. Low-in­come fam­i­lies might have only one ve­hi­cle, for in­stance, or work mul­ti­ple jobs.

“Ameni­ties like build­ing a moun­tain bike trail sys­tem — it’s not for peo­ple who are strug­gling to make ends meet,” Kevin Fitz­patrick, a univer­sity so­ci­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor who re­searches home­less­ness in the area, said last year.

Then there’s the ques­tion of dis­tance: Crys­tal Bridges, for ex­am­ple, is an hour’s drive from Lin­coln with light traf­fic. Hale said she and her hus­band want to go there to­gether and haven’t found the time yet be­cause of work on their chicken farm.

On the other hand, many non­profit groups pro­vide events free of charge or at low cost to thou­sands of stu­dents on field trips. They’re also adding more events and ser­vices, of­ten with mil­lions of dol­lars in char­i­ta­ble and pub­lic sup­port.

“We’re re­ally lucky here,” Gins­burg said. The jazz so­ci­ety’s sum­mer con­cert se­ries with the lo­cal NPR af­fil­i­ate KUAF be­gins later this month, for ex­am­ple, and the group’s work­ing with Crys­tal Bridges this fall for an ex­hibit by a jazz-in­spired painter.

The growth is of­ten phys­i­cal as well. TheatreSquared in Fayet­teville is build­ing a new home down­town with the help of $6 mil­lion from the city and $12.5 mil­lion from the Wal­ton foun­da­tion. Rogers City Coun­cil, mean­while, voted last week to pro­vide $2.5 mil­lion for an ex­pan­sion to the city’s his­tor­i­cal mu­seum.

“This fund­ing will help build it, and I think it’ll help at­tract new peo­ple to Rogers,” said Al­der­man Buddy Wright of Rogers’ Ward 1. “I def­i­nitely sup­port it.”


The Wal­ton Arts Cen­ter and busi­nesses on Dick­son Street on Thurs­day are vis­i­ble in Fayet­teville. North­west Arkansas’ arts and cul­tural non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tions and events drew al­most 2 mil­lion at­ten­dees who spent tens of mil­lions of dol­lars in 2015, ac­cord­ing to a new study from Amer­i­cans for the Arts that mea­sured the non­prof­its’ spend­ing and their at­ten­dees’ spend­ing on an­cil­lary ex­penses li­kee park­ing and food.

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The site of the un­der con­struc­tion TheatreSquared and part of the entertainment dis­trict are vis­i­ble on West Av­enue on Thurs­day are vis­i­ble in Fayet­teville.


The Wal­ton Arts Cen­ter and busi­nesses on Dick­son Street on Thurs­day are vis­i­ble in Fayet­teville.

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