Arts boost state's 'creative economy'

By Anthony Cronin
Publication: The Day

There's value in the arts - especially in terms of our state's economy.

A new report estimates the "creative economy" in Connecticut, representing nonprofit arts and cultural organizations, is a nearly $625 million enterprise, employing nearly 10,000 workers and making up almost 1 percent of the state's work force.

In New England, that same creative economy totals almost $4 billion and employs more than 53,000 in more than 18,000 organizations.

"New England's creative economy," says Rebecca Blunk, executive director of the New England Foundation for the Arts, "is one of the distinguishing strengths of our region."

"Cultural nonprofits," she adds, "have a significant impact on their commercial neighbors - investing in space, staff, events, utilities, visitors - contributing as any other industry."

Arts and cultural organizations in New England, according to her group's 2011 economic report, constitute a major industry in their own right and have grown significantly since 2002. In addition, they tend to be stable, reliable industries, less subject to the cyclical buffeting of the overall economy that affects other firms.

And they have a major commercial impact on New England's broader economy.

In Connecticut, for instance, nonprofit arts and cultural groups have grown by 15 percent from 2002 to 2009, when the latest data was available, while spending grew 15 percent during that same timeframe and employment spiked 21 percent.

The Boston-based regional arts foundation's comprehensive report is titled "New England's Creative Economy: Nonprofit Sector Impact," and it details the economic impact of the region's nonprofit arts-related groups, from the noted museums in Boston to design schools, libraries and performance-arts center, including the Garde Arts Center in New London, one of only two institutions New England-wide to be featured on the report's cover.

In addition, the Garde is one of the few cultural institutions that is detailed inside the report for "Building an Arts Block" in downtown New London. The report notes that the 1,450-seat cultural arts center on State Street has become "an arts block of commercial and arts-related buildings all owned by the Garde Center. Together, they serve as a regional community gathering place and have been a catalyst helping to revitalize downtown New London and southeastern Connecticut."

Steve Sigel, executive director of the downtown landmark arts center, welcomes such praise, saying the institution has an impact on the local economy, from the jobs it creates when a show comes to town to its importance as a cultural attraction for local employers, including Pfizer Inc. and Electric Boat.

The New England Foundation for the Arts report notes that during the 2007-to-2009 downturn in the local economy, the Garde diversified its income stream by opening a smaller, 120-seat music venue there called the Oasis Room, which was added in 2008. Sigel says the new venue was opened to provide additional nights of programming and to stimulate more "Main Street" activity downtown. The report notes that new art galleries and restaurants have since opened. The NEFA report says "these examples clearly indicate the commercial spinoff effects of (the Garde's) major arts investment."

The Garde, it says, acts as an economic stimulus for businesses, other arts venues, the educational community, city leaders, as well as the region's tourism, science and technology sectors.

Says Sigel, "I would like to think that the fact that we were chosen (for the report) has more to do about this place, this hub of activity based here."

"The sense of place here," he adds, "is very unique, and research and innovation cuts across so many sectors (from the arts to technology) in southeastern Connecticut."

Dee Schneidman, the research manager for the New England Foundation for the Arts, says the detailed report on New England's creative economy serves as a periodic update assessing the economic impact of the arts and cultural scene and has been done since the late 1970s. She says a new feature in this year's economic report were the vignettes about successful arts and cultural institutions, including the Garde. Other venues included in the report were the Maine International Film Festival in Waterville, Maine, and AS220, a nonprofit arts space in downtown Providence.

"What's important about the arts and culture nonprofits," says Schneidman, "is that they are businesses. They employ workers. They buy their utilities, they support their local communities, they pay their bills, and they bring more people downtown than other types of organizations."

Schneidman says that arts and cultural nonprofits are a good investment for a community, "not just because they have an economic impact but also because they add to the vitality of a community, especially when it comes to the 'Main Street' communities."

She says the New England Foundation for the Arts' choice of the Garde Arts Center to be featured in the creative economy report was obvious.

"The Garde rose to the top easily," she says. "They're very invested in being an anchor organization," says Schneidman. "When our consultants spoke to Steve Sigel, it was very clear that (the Garde) sees its success as part and parcel to the success of New London."


The New England Foundation for the Arts' 2011 report on New England's creative economy, which includes nonprofit arts and cultural groups, says those organizations have a big impact on the regional economy:

• In New England, there are 18,026 arts and cultural organizations.

• Collectively, they spend almost $3.7 billion and employ 53,273.

• In Connecticut, there are 3,326 arts and cultural organizations.

• Collectively, they spend almost $624.9 million and employ 9,918.

• In Rhode Island, there are 1,163 arts and cultural organizations.

• Collectively, they spend almost $324.5 million and employ 5,165.

• In Connecticut, arts-related groups grew 15 percent from 2002 to 2009.

• Their spending grew 15 percent from 2002 to 2009.

• Their employment grew 21 percent from 2002 to 2009.

Source: New England Foundation for the Arts, Boston, Mass., "New England's Creative Economy: Nonprofit Sector Impact."