A recent study illustrates how the arts help fuel Northwest Arkansas’ economy

The Arts & Economic Prosperity 6 (AEP6) study released in October shed some light on the profound economic impact of arts and culture nonprofits in the region.

For its efforts, Northwest Arkansas can take the curtain call.

Researchers found that the region’s nonprofit arts and culture industry and their dedicated audiences generated $232.6 million in economic activity in 2022. New reports from the national nonprofit Americans for the Arts include the findings.

The study was completed in conjunction with the nonprofit organization Northwest Arkansas Creative Arkansas Community Hub & Exchange (CACHE), the Arkansas Arts Council and Arkansans for the Arts.

Northwest Arkansas’ economic impact is broken down into $157.4 million in organizational spending and $75.2 million in event-related spending by attendees. Notably, the economic surge translated into supporting 3,434 jobs and generating $35.2 million in tax revenue.

Jeanette Balesa Collins, CACHE board co-chair, said the report is a reminder of how critical the arts and culture industry is.

“The data highlight the creative power of the arts to accelerate a common sense of belonging and drive economic vitality, while highlighting how diverse representation makes Arkansas stronger.”

In Arkansas, the nonprofit arts and culture industry will generate $306.4 million in economic activity in 2022.

Nationally, the AEP6 study found that the US nonprofit arts and culture sector is a $151.7 billion industry, supports 2.6 million jobs and generates $29.1 billion in government revenue.

Arts and cultural activities in 373 communities and regions representing all 50 states, Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico were included in the multi-year study. The study areas range in population from 4,000 to 4 million and represent rural, suburban, and urban communities.

To complete the national study, the researchers and their local and state research partners collected spending and attendance data from arts and culture organizations and their participants to measure overall industry spending.

Americans for Prosperity conducts the survey approximately every five years. AEP6 is the first study to include Arkansas.

“The state of arts and culture in Arkansas is strong,” said Gene Lacefield, president of the Arkansas Board for the Arts. “The Arts and Economic Prosperity 6 study supports what we already know with data. When talking to our elected legislators, government officials and community leaders, being able to point out the real impact of arts and culture and related industries is vital.

“This report strengthens Arkansans for the Arts’ narrative that we must increase and continue to support public funding for arts and culture, including artists and arts education.”

CACHE was one of 42 nonprofit arts and culture organizations in Northwest Arkansas that provided the financial and attendance information needed for the analysis. Karen Castleman leads the organization’s nationwide data collection effort, which includes information from 114 organizations.

She said the study results are just the tip of the iceberg.

“Arts spending doesn’t just support the artists you see on stage or whose work you see in a gallery,” said Castleman, manager of dance and events for CACHE Studios, an arts community and creative space in Bentonville. “There’s an entire industry of jobs that support this product, like lighting technicians or audio technicians, operations managers, marketing and finance staff.”

Karen Castleman

Castleman has over 20 years of experience as a professional dancer, educator, choreographer and community leader. She moved with her husband, a visual artist, from Chicago to Northwest Arkansas immediately after the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art opened in Bentonville in November 2011.

“We came with a pioneering spirit,” she recalls. “We expected the influx of arts and culture activities to grow in response to the large investment made to have a significant museum here. And we have seen that.”

Castleman noted the ripple effects illustrated in the AEP6 findings. When people attend arts and cultural events, they also dine at restaurants, pay for parking or transportation, enjoy dessert or a drink after the show, and return home to pay for childcare or pet care. Art event attendees spend an average of $27.34 per person with local merchants beyond the price of admission. That number more than doubles ($63.33) for non-local participants (outside Benton and Washington counties).

Jill Wagar, a founding executive team member and senior director of Crystal Bridges, is also director of Momentary, Crystal Bridges’ Bentonville sister contemporary art and entertainment venue.

She said the two venues will welcome about 850,000 visitors this year, about 40 percent of whom will travel from other countries.

“Art and culture move people [to Northwest Arkansas],” she said. “When they come for tourism, they spend dollars here. They stay here and invest in our community.”

She offered another anecdote about license plates to illustrate the appeal of Crystal Bridges as a tourist destination.

“I often played the license plate game [driving] across the parking lot and in one case I got to 32 different states,” she said. “Guests make Crystal Bridges a very targeted destination on their itinerary across America.”

Other findings from the Northwest Arkansas AEP6 report include:

  • 12% of attendees were non-local visitors who traveled from outside of Benton and Washington counties.
  • 87.4% of non-local visitors reported that the main purpose of their visit was specifically to visit the performance, event, exhibition, venue or facility where they were surveyed.
  • 41.4% of attendees who live in Benton and Washington counties said they would “travel to another community to attend a similar arts or cultural activity.”
  • 92% said they would “feel a sense of loss if that activity or place is no longer available.”
  • 91% said the location or facility where they were surveyed was “an important pillar for me in my community.”

“Arts and cultural organizations’ events make good neighbors and community members,” Castleman said. “They keep local dollars in the community and attract business from visitors who come for these events. They create a sense of pride and belonging to the community.

Castleman said the report and the information in it should make clear that continued advocacy and support for the arts — even in a challenging environment — is critical.

“It’s important to recognize that this is an industry that needs to be continually promoted and invested in,” she said. “You might see vibrant communities and great art opportunities and think, ‘Well, we’ve nailed it.’ Let’s move on to some other interests.

“The numbers show a viable arts and culture economy here that contributes to our overall well-being and quality of life. Continued investment also equates to a ripple effect of continued economic growth in other areas.”

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