5 Questions: Arts Equals Business

By Hannah Wallace September 30, 2012

Randy CohenAs vice president of research and policy for national arts advocacy group Americans for the Arts, Randy Cohen partnered with economists on a 2010 national study of the economic impact of nonprofit arts and cultural organizations; Sarasota was among the communities surveyed. Cohen will speak at Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall Oct. 23 at “The Arts Mean Business” luncheon event co-hosted by the EDC of Sarasota County and the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County. Here he talks about some of the study’s findings.

How do the arts contribute to an area’s overall economy? I like to tell this story: A couple weeks before date night with my wife, we got online and used our credit card to purchase theater tickets. The night of the performance, we went out to dinner, spent $60—the restaurant owner got some of that money, and the waiter, plus local farms. Then we went to the theater and paid $10 at the parking garage, which goes to whoever owns the building, plus the clerk who gave us our ticket. We shared a glass of wine, provided by caterers, and used the facilities on our way to the seats—even arts organizations need a good plumber—then opened up the program, made by designers and printers. The curtain hasn’t even gone up, and look at all the industries we’ve touched.

How do you counter the perception that the arts are just an expensive luxury? Arts and cultural organizations are generating $180 million of economic activity [in Sarasota County], and $129 million is spending by the organizations alone. People see the arts as this wonderful amenity that helps create the places where we want to live, but this shows that they’re also good business citizens. Plus, all that economic activity is bringing in critical revenue at a time when municipal governments are looking for ways to pay for needed services.

How does Sarasota’s arts industry compare to communities of similar size? Sarasota County is in the 250,000 to 500,000 population group. The $180 million in total expenditures is well above the group average of $100 million, higher still above the median, which was $78 million. Of attendees, 41 percent came from outside the county. Nationally the average was 32 percent.

How can we maintain and build on our arts industry? Both the public and the private sector have a role in investing in the arts. You gotta keep feeding the goose that’s laying the golden eggs. Arts organizations and businesses—especially restaurants, coffee houses, hotels, etc.—those are great partnership opportunities. Also, every municipal government has committees and advisory boards, opportunities for civic engagement. I ask, “Are the arts organizations part of those?”

Any other benefits? If you look at the 21st-century workforce, [skilled] workers are picking the communities they want to live in and then moving there, even without a job. What are some of the big draws? Creative, cultural communities. People want to live in a cool place. And a skilled workforce is going to attract businesses like kitties to milk.

To hear Randy Cohen speak at “The Arts Mean Business” luncheon, go to

Tickets are $45.

Filed under
Show Comments