Doing the math: Nonprofits, arts provide economic boost

By Bob Keyes
Staff Writer

When talking about the creative economy, it’s easy to get lost in a litany of numbers.

As much as Dee Schneidman likes to talk about statistics, she prefers highlighting the intangibles that arts and cultural nonprofit organizations bring to their communities.

“It’s really about quality of place,” said Schneidman, research manager for the New England Foundation for the Arts. “Arts and cultural nonprofits are particularly important in New England because they contribute to their communities economically, and they also contribute to quality of life. They are run like any other business, but with a different tax status.

“They are mission-based, but that does not mean they do not earn and spend and contribute to their communities. They employ people, and these jobs are real jobs.”

New England nonprofit arts and cultural organizations support more than 53,000 full- and part-time jobs, according to a new NEFA report, “New England’s Creative Economy: Nonprofit Sector Impact.”
Arts and cultural nonprofits are one segment of New England’s creative economy. The other two are creative businesses and creative workers, Schneidman said. The NEFA study focused only on the nonprofit sector.

Planning Decisions Inc., the Maine Center for Creativity and University of Southern Maine economist Charles Colgan contributed to the report.

Among the findings:

  • In 2009, New England arts and cultural nonprofits spent almost $3.7 billion and generated more than $8 billion in economic activity.
  • That spending total is $1 billion more than the gross product of the region’s entire paper manufacturing industry and almost as large as the gross product of the region’s information and data processing industry.
  • In Maine, arts and cultural nonprofits accounted for 5,246 jobs and about $262 million in spending.
  • In a time of a down economy, the nonprofit arts and cultural sector is growing. NEFA’s last report on the sector was published in 2006 with data from 2002.

Since then, New England arts and cultural nonprofits have grown by 14 percent, their spending is up 24 percent, and employment is up 28 percent.

In Maine, the numbers are more dramatic. According to the survey, the number of nonprofit arts and cultural organizations is up 20 percent, spending is up 69 percent, and employment is up 90 percent.  Some increases, however, may be the result of different survey methods and a wider database.  Schneidman said the report should help with arts advocacy.

“Those who are doing advocacy on the local level have the numbers they need to bring to budget hearings and legislative sessions. We want everyone to have these numbers at their fingertips,” she said.

“We also want the nonprofit arts and cultural organizations to understand their own value as reflected back at them through this report.”

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

Twitter: pphkeyes