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Part of the Value of Culture

Posted by Will Maitland Weiss
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Part of the Value of Culture

Last Friday, a couple of Arts & Business Council of New York staff members attended a City Council hearing on how cultural organizations support New York City businesses, to help Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, his City Council Committee on Cultural Affairs, and the Committee on Small Businesses in their effort to quantify the economic impact of and further connect arts and business.

 

Department of Cultural Affairs Commissioner Kate Levin was there and talked about the purchasing power of cultural organizations, particularly in terms of local spending in areas such as printing, catering, and equipment rentals.

 

Councilmember Van Bramer said, “Any time we cut the budget for cultural institutions, we are hurting small businesses.” Here’s what we said:

 

We all know why 51 million tourists come to New York.

 

We know that 6.3 million of them come to the Met Museum—so many, the Met is looking at opening seven days a week for the first time since 1971. There’s only one museum on earth that more people go to (the Mona Lisa is there), and no place on earth has the breadth and diversity of museums, and the breadth, depth, and impact of enrichment programs for public school children.

 

We know that Broadway always has been, is, always will be New York—more than 12 million attendees in 2011, more than $1 billion in ticket sales. How many other, smaller businesses are supported in and around the Great White Way?

 

We know that almost 200 movies and 140 TV shows were filmed in New York last year. It’s not just Woody Allen and Smash. This is where the top artists want to work, which creates 100,000 jobs for others behind the scenes, every one of whom shops, eats, spends (and pays taxes) in New York. Look at Buttercup and Kaufman Studios. Look at the expansion plans for Steiner Studios.

 

We know the economic impact figures for New York State are $25 billion a year, and 200,000+ jobs…or maybe it’s twice that by now (those are the Alliance for the Arts figures from 2005)? The most recent Municipal Art Society/Cultural Data Project figures from just 1,325 of the nonprofit culturals show 120,000+ people employed and over $5 billion in direct expenditures—just from the nonprofits.

 

What we really know is that we don’t know how many incorporated arts nonprofits (more than 1,500), how many artists, how many creative industries, how many creative people there are in New York. We just know: more than anywhere else. And we know where they shop and eat and pay taxes.

 

And the direct dollars—or even the direct dollars and the restaurant dollars and hotel dollars and transportation dollars and shopping dollars and the $1 billion put right back into the economy through tax revenue generated by the arts—and indirect dollars are NOT the most powerful advantage that the arts provide for the rest of New York City’s businesses.

 

Did you read the front page New York Times piece about UBS’s consideration of moving offices back to the city from the suburbs? Where is the most competitive place where hot shots want to work? And therefore spend their Wall Street money at New York’s smaller businesses?

 

Why is the Silicon Valley tech sector growing in NYC? It now includes an explosion of graduate programs and start-up incubators! CUNY, Columbia, Cornell and all the rest, all are employing thousands and attracting hundreds of thousands of students to NYC.

 

All of that is because every employer wants creative, energized employees and every employee (and every student) want to live and work in a city where the creativity never stops.

 

Yes, access to primary education, healthcare, transportation, and safety are also important to employers and employees in every business. But the quality of life—the excitement—the stimulation—the innovation—the creativity factor that drives the work force to (and keeps the workforce in) a city: that’s what the arts does for New York.

 

We agree with this year’s Economist magazine Benchmarking Global City Competitiveness report. They rank 130 cities around the world. New York is number one. “Asian cities [now] dominate the ‘economic strength’ category. The most significant advantage that developed country cities (like New York) hold is their ability to develop and attract the world’s top talent.

 

Other factors bolster their performance, too, such as cultural activities and quality of life.” We agree with what Mayor Bloomberg said in that article: “I’ve always believed that talent attracts capital more effectively than capital attracts talent.”

 

Every City Council member also knows this, knows it first-hand, even better than the Mayor, from the magnets and anchors in her or his own district. Thank god that the arts are not the plaything of some Economist-reading elite; they are present and essential and loved in every neighborhood in New York. They are the catalyst that attracts good people, and good businesses, big and small, to every neighborhood in New York.

 

Arts & Business. We’ve been tracking it since 1965. This city has been doing it since 1626. You cannot have one without the other.

 

*Photo courtesy of Vincent Desjardins.

 

*Originally posted on ARTSblog

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