The Economic Power of Art

The Economic Power of Art

In my last column, I quoted Dylan: “The times, they’re a-changin’” in reference to Street Art vs. Graffiti.

I’m revisiting that theme today, but with an eye to the economic power of art, and why we should support the Arts at every level.

  • Arts draw people and dollars to a community. An out-of-town visitor might buy a ticket to a local theater production and follow the show with dinner and drinks.

  • Arts institutions, such as concert venues, can serve as a downtown anchor, reigniting commerce.

  • Arts preserve and promote the stories and history of a locality and they expose individuals and communities to a larger world of ideas.

  • Arts help foster a sense of place and instill civic pride. Arts can make people care about their hometown.

What do the numbers really look like? (If you like research, you’re going to love this.  If not, skip on down to the pictures).

Let’s start with the fact that nationally, ‘the arts” contributes more than $700Billion  – a whopping 4.23%  – to US GDP.  That’s more than the construction industry.  Here in Utah, we’re a bit behind the curve, at roughly 3.9% / $2.9Billion.  Still… not shabby. On the flip side, we’re one of the top five States in terms of creative industry employment: total numbers AND growth rate.

In that previous article, I made the point that several cities have structured murals programs, which leads to increased economic activity via tourism.  Miami was one I mentioned, with its Wynwood Walls.  But Miami is also host to possibly the largest art event in the country: Art Basel Miami Beach.  Each December some 75,000 people visit Miami to attend ABMB and its satellite fairs; contributing more than $13 million immediately (akin to the Outdoor Retailer convention), and spurring nearly $500 million in further economic activity since the first edition in 2002.

Ogden has obviously done a great job at marketing itself as an outdoor recreation destination. But according to research, the fastest-growing tourism segment is…. Drum roll please: Cultural Tourism.

Cultural Tourism is defined on Wikipedia as: “the subset of tourism concerned with a traveler’s engagement with a country or region’s culture, specifically the lifestyle of the people in those geographical areas, the history of those people, their art, architecture, religion(s), and other elements that helped shape their way of life.”


Photo: D. Scott Patria
Caption: A large crowd enjoys an exhibition of sculpture snowglobes in Barcelona, Spain.

And, not only is this segment growing the fastest, but these travelers tend to stay longer and spend more. Every dollar a visitor spends feeds Weber County RAMP. So we want more of them, right?

Let’s look at Weber County RAMP: in 2017, by supporting projects like NEXT Ensemble, Ogden Symphony Ballet, the Eccles Community Art Center, Ogden Arts Festival, PLATFORMS and more, it pumped over $925,000 back into Ogden’s creative economy – that’s roughly $10 for each resident. And it doesn’t include spending by the people who attend the various exhibitions & performances; according to a 2007 study by Americans for the Arts, the average attendee spends nearly $28!  That means our businesses do better, and Ogden City government has more funds without raising property taxes. Nice, right?

Nearly 7000 Music-lovers from all over enjoy The Shins’ Ogden Twilight concert in this photo supplied by Ogden City.


So, the Arts make our life better by making a nicer place to live, and can be a real economic driver.

Where do the “changin’ times” come in you might ask?

Well, we all know Utah’s population is expected to double by 2050; it’s reasonable to believe that Ogden’s will follow in lockstep.  And, a region’s arts & cultural offerings are becoming more and more important factors as people decide where to live (and move).

An entirely new group of people, the “Cultural Creatives”, some 50 million of them, are changing the very nature of communities and careers with their values: Eco-conscious – they see nature as sacred, and live “green” lives; not overly materialistic, or worried about “job” success – yet they tend to be successful; social equality and justice are highly important.

Photo: D. Scott Patria
Hundreds of art lovers look on in amazement at aerial acrobats performing at the Utah Arts Festival



We’re competing with other cities to grow in the most likeable, liveable, and healthy fashion.

In addition, studies also show that a STEAM vs STEM approach to education can result in higher academic achievement and nearly doubling the number of kids inspired get a college education, helping reverse the “Brain Drain” recently reported here. Plus, with robots being developed daily to do the more routine jobs, creative thinking will be an essential skill.

Now for the bad news (and a call to action).  According to the 2015 Creative Vitality™ Index (CVI™) (a measure of the arty-ness of a region, and the corresponding support from State government), Ogden and Weber County severely lag behind our big sister to the south. Assigning a national average a value of 1.0, Salt Lake County’s Vitality Index is 1.33, with nearly $0.70 of State funds per capita flowing in.  Weber County’s CVI is 0.54, with only $0.16 per capita funding. In real dollars, the difference is even more stark: over $775,000 went to Salt Lake County, while only $38,000 flowed into Weber. In short, Weber County sees roughly one-tenth the per-capita arts & culture funding that Salt Lake enjoys.

The OCAAC and local arts organizations are crafting a plan to address this disparity, but we could use your help.  We’re also heading to the Capitol for Arts Day on the Hill on Monday February 5.
If you value art in your life, your schools, and your community, please consider dropping your Representatives and Senators a note, letting them know that you’d appreciate their attention to this matter… write now, and again after the 5th, while the legislature is still in session! 

Senate District 18 Ann Millner  amillner@le.utah.gov

Senate District 19: Allen M Christensen achristensen@le.utah.gov

Senate District 20: David G. Buxton  gbuxton@le.utah.gov

House District 8: Gage Froerer  gfroerer@le.utah.gov

House District 9: Jeremy A. Peterson  jeremyapeterson@le.utah.gov

House District 10: Dixon M. Pitcher dpitcher@le.utah.gov

A vibrant, engaging city with tons of artistic and cultural offerings starts with you.  Go to First Friday Art Stroll, see a play, go to a concert. Start a book club. Give (or take) dance lessons… and tell us about it. Let’s grow the arts in Ogden and Weber County – together!