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By Ed Arnold - Memphis Business Journal -
In a community known for its musical heritage, it should come as no surprise that the economic impact of the arts looms large in Memphis. But just how large an impact might turn some heads.
According to a new study by the nonprofit advocacy group Americans for the Arts, the Memphis area’s culture industry accounted for more than $125 million in combined spending from arts-focused nonprofits and the audiences it drew in 2010. Dollars spent by culturally focused organizations, such as ArtsMemphis and Ballet Memphis, amount to half of the total. The other half is spent by attendees.
The last time this study was done for the Memphis area a decade ago, nonprofit arts accounted for just over $100 million.
The study finds that spending on the arts accounts for nearly 4,000 full-time equivalent jobs, more than $100 million in household income to area residents and more than $15 million in local and state government revenue.
While those numbers are impressive, they lag behind similar-size regions. The average amount spent by regions similar in size to Memphis, according to the study, is more than $161 million.
To put the numbers in context, if the arts community was a general contractor, its $125 million in spending would make it the city’s second largest. Or if it was a publicly traded company, its 4,000 full-time equivalent employees would make it the third-largest employer.
Tourism is a significant part of Memphis’ overall arts spending. In event-specific spending, Memphis residents made up nearly 67 percent of cultural event attendees, spending almost $24 million.
Susan Schadt, president and CEO of ArtsMemphis, believes that the city should do more to highlight the arts community when considering its economic development strategy.
“We need to have both mayors have nonprofit arts as part of economic development,” says Schadt. “Right now, the music and film industry on the for-profit side is considered while the nonprofit is not.”
Financial incentives are clearly the largest motivator in attracting business to Memphis, but quality of life is a large selling point for any city. According to Bob Craddock, board chairman of ArtsMemphis, that can be the tipping point.
“Quality of the arts in the city has a huge, unmeasurable impact on the city to attract new business,” says Craddock. “It’s very important to bring new high-level employees to the city and the arts plays a huge role in that.”
The Greater Memphis Chamber board of directors has a permanent position set aside for the arts. Currently, Ballet Memphis co-founder and director Dorothy Pugh sits on the board.
John Moore, president and CEO of the Memphis Chamber, says that with any business expansion project, quality of life as reflected in the arts community is high on the list of priorities.
“The arts are vital to attracting not just companies, but talent as well,” says Moore. “It says a lot about what we value as a community.”