Economic impact study shows depth, breadth of arts' local reach

Eastern Iowa arts generate $7.4 million in local and state government revenues

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The arts are big business in Eastern Iowa.

A new nationwide study shows that the economic impact of the region’s non-profit arts and cultural organizations grew from $63.08 million in fiscal 2005 to $79.8 million five years later. Of that amount, arts entities in 11 Eastern Iowa counties spend $50.2 million and their audiences spend another $29.6 million, according to the Arts & Economic Prosperity IV study conducted by Americans for the Arts.

Four years after the floods devastated many of the area’s arts venues, the recovery efforts, teamed with the study results, prove “the durability of the arts, the staying power of the arts and the centrality of the arts to our lives,” Randy Cohen said Thursday morning in the Opus Concert Cafe, over the din of construction at the Paramount Theatre next door. He’s vice president of research and policy at Americans for the Arts, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit that advocates for the arts and arts education.

Local arts entities support 2,761 full-time equivalent jobs, the study says, and generate $7.4 million in local and state government revenues.

The entire process of planning an evening at the theater illustrates the far reaches of the arts, Cohen said, including buying tickets online and using the venue’s restrooms.

“We all think (arts jobs) support artists, but look at who else is benefiting in the community as a result of just that one experience. There had to be a computer programmer, right? Gotta pay for gasoline to drive there, we had a lovely dinner at a restaurant. The restaurant owner paid the waiter and bought produce from the local growers, so lots of economic activity there. Then we got to the theater. Everybody needs a good plumber, right? There was an electrician to keep the place going and well lit, then of course, we saw the show, and there were artists and actors and directors and technicians, and the people who marketed the show,” he said.

“So this one experience, which is repeated thousands of times every day right here in this Cultural Corridor, illustrates the amount of economic activity and the kinds of jobs and employment that are supported as a result of the vibrant arts community. That’s what we’re trying to capture here.”

The concept of arts as an economic generator isn’t new to the 50 or so community and cultural leaders attending the Iowa Cultural Corridor Alliance presentation where the study results were unveiled. The numbers confirm what they’ve always known.

“I’ve known for a long time that the arts are a draw in a community,” Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett said. “From a resources standpoint, they actually put a lot of resources back into the community. That’s why ... we’ll be putting several hundred thousand dollars in hotel/motel tax money back into the organizations that help generate local tax dollars.”

Casey Prince, executive director of Theatre Cedar Rapids, one of the venues reclaimed from the floods, was pleasantly surprised by the economic leap forward.

“I thought the study five years ago that (showed) $62, $63 million economic impact was huge. That it’s jumped to $80 million is amazing,” he said. “From our perspective, we can see the impact that we make, and it’s kind of fun to hear how we’re all doing it collectively. Part of our collective therapy in this region has been through the arts the past four years or so. You cling to what’s important in the difficult times, and I think in the case of Eastern Iowa, the arts are definitely a big part of our emotional saving.”

The arts also drive economics in bringing businesses and workers to a region.

“Our major employers in Iowa City will tell you they go out of their way to take their job candidates to downtown Iowa City when they know the Englert lights will be shining because they’re such an attractor,” said Nancy Quellhorst, president and CEO of the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce.

“The arts inspire and delight us, there’s really nobody that’s going to debate that,” Cohen told The Gazette’s Editorial Board earlier in the day. “But the fact that they’re an industry that supports jobs and generates government revenue is a myth-buster for a lot of people.”

To see the full study, go to

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