Advocates say the arts helps the state's economy; Providence Journal

Soure: Providence Journal

By Paul Grimaldi
Journal Staff Writer

Marisa Bellis, of Bristol, has created a full-time career in New England looking after animals on movie sets. She keeps her horses on a farm off Poppasquash Road. The Providence Journal / Bob Thayer
As Rhode Island legislators grapple with a budget deficit estimated at $440 million, people representing various constituencies have besieged the State House in recent weeks to lobby for money in next year’s finance plan.

Advocates for the state’s arts and culture community yesterday joined the chorus gathering in the outer chamber of the governor’s office to underscore the effect their endeavors have in the state’s economy. Many arts and cultural organizations around the state rely on the state for some part of their annual budgets.
Rhode Island last year was home to nearly 2,400 arts-related businesses that employed nearly 13,000 people, according to a national study highlighted by the group, Rhode Island Citizens for the Arts.

“Many of these organizations work hand-to-mouth,” said Yvonne Seggerman, managing director of the Sandra Feinstein-Gamm Theatre, in Pawtucket. “If we lose the funding, some organizations will be laying staff off.”

The people gathered yesterday at the State House were joined by state General Treasurer Frank Caprio and a small group of legislators, including Rep. Peter Lewiss, D-Westerly.

“We all know the unemployment [number] in Rhode Island has been moving in the wrong direction,” Caprio said.

Rhode Island last month shed another 700 jobs, the fourth consecutive monthly decline, and the state unemployment rate remained unchanged at 6.1 percent, according to state figures.
So far this year, Rhode Island — the only New England state that economists say is in recession — has lost 6,300 jobs, and its payroll employment has fallen to its lowest level since June 2003, according to the state Department of Labor and Training.

“This is an extremely challenging year for our state,” said Lewiss, noting that people employed in the arts sector are asking legislators and the governor to “treat us fairly and equally.”

Caprio considers arts and culture “an important economic engine for Rhode Island,” and, he said, “one of the bright spots in the economy.”

The group gathered at the State House used as the basis for its argument a study released last week by Americans for the Arts, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group. The study, Creative Industries 2008: The State Report, relied on data gathered by financial research firm Dun & Bradstreet.

Researchers examined employment in six industries: museums and collections; performing arts; visual arts and photography; film, radio and television; design and publishing; and arts schools and services.

Those organizations included for-profit companies, such as architecture firms and advertising agencies, as well as nonprofit museums and historical societies.

The study shows that arts-related businesses in the United States grew 12 percent last year, represented 4.3 percent of all businesses and accounted for 2.2 percent of the nation’s jobs.
“We’re really bucking the [employment] trend,” Seggerman said.

Among the other New England states, Vermont held the fewest such businesses and workers; Massachusetts had the most.

The state figures were:

  • Vermont: 1,980 businesses; 6,614 workers
  • Maine: 2,766 businesses; 10,438 workers
  • New Hampshire: 3,184 businesses; 11,284 workers
  • Connecticut: 9,520 businesses; 38,227 workers
  • Massachusetts: 15,451 businesses; 77,598 workers.

While last week’s report paints an upbeat picture of employment in the creative industry and its short-term direction, other researchers cautioned that it’s difficult to define just what jobs should be included in such research.

“We need to know who we’re talking about,” said Dee Schneidman, a research manager with the New England Foundation for the Arts, which develops and manages arts initiatives. “You have to look at the organization and you have to look at the worker.”

Released last year, the foundation’s most recent study noted: “The term ‘creative economy’ has taken on multiple meanings and definitions, and comparison among various research efforts has become nearly impossible.”

Relying on data from the 2000 U.S. Census, the foundation’s report tries to create a framework and definitions for studying employment in the creative industry.

The goal is to give groups such as Rhode Island Citizens for the Arts “leverage,” said Schneidman, when seeking money and support from governments, other agencies or the public.

Still, the foundation’s research showed Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut all ranked among the top 10 states for the number of artists as a percentage of the work force.
Now, Schneidman said, arts groups are in a “little bit of wait-and-see mode” as they await budget decisions and employment data from the next census.

The census data should show how badly the current economic downturn hurt the sector and whether the people gathered at the State House succeeded in protecting Rhode Island’s creative industry from the worst of the budgetary fallout.
Arts schools/service firms: up 17%
Performing arts organizations: up 15%
Film, radio, TV businesses: up 15%
Design/publishing companies: up 13%
Film, radio, TV jobs: up 11%