Susan Schmelzer on Arts Policy: Study Shows How Arts Fuel the Economy

Politicians . . . passed a bill that would put taxpayers on the hook . . . to build and run a conservatory for dancers and art students. I’m ready to fight them on this . . . You know who would have to pay that bill? You. Missouri families. I think that’s wrong.”

Governor Eric Greitens

Cover of “Arts and Economic Prosperity 5,” a national economic impact research report published by Americans for the Arts. (courtesy of ArtsKC)

These were the words spoken by Greitens in June as he vetoed the bill which had been passed by the Missouri General Assembly on a strongly bi-partisan basis to authorize $48 million in bonds for a new UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance campus in downtown Kansas City. The cost of construction had already been matched by $48 million in private donor pledges under a 50-50 matching program for capital projects. His message was clear: Arts and artists are frivolous and shouldn’t receive tax support — a baseless viewpoint not just archaic, but harmful to Missouri families.

Had Greitens sought out evidence, he would have found a growing body of research demonstrating that voters in fact wholeheartedly support state funding for the arts, and he may have understood why so many legislators representing both parties cast their “ayes” for the bill. For example, a national survey conducted in 2016 by Ipsos Public Affairs and Americans for the Arts found that 82 percent of Americans believe arts and culture are important to local businesses, while 87 percent of Americans believe arts and culture are important to quality of life. Further findings related to quality of life include 73 percent of respondents who said the arts are a “positive experience in a troubled world,” and 67 percent who said that “Arts unite our communities regardless of age, race and ethnicity.”

Americans for the Arts (AFTA) has recently published its latest national economic impact research report, “Arts and Economic Prosperity 5” (AEP5), based on data collected directly from all 50 states, and regions and communities of all sizes. At a forum hosted by regional arts council ArtsKC this fall, Randy Cohen, VP of Research and Policy at AFTA, presented the national report. The study proved once again the valuable contribution that arts and arts audiences make to the economy. The report notes that the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis now puts the arts industry at 4.2 percent of the nation’s GDP — “a larger share of the economy than transportation, tourism, agriculture and construction.”

In short, the arts continue to play a growing role in the national economy, contributing $27.54 billion in government revenue, while supporting 4.6 million jobs. How promising is that information? To see the full report, visit www.americansforthearts.org.

ArtsKC has done a wonderful job of isolating AEP5 data for the Greater Kansas City Area. The total 2015 economic impact of arts and culture in the Kansas City region, including spending by arts organizations and by audiences, comes to $276.1 million — a 60 percent increase since 2010 — with a contribution to local and state government revenue of $24.6 million. Arts contribute 8,970 jobs and $45 per tourist to the local economy. Johnson County data from AEP5 is also available at www.artskcorg.

Your ammunition is at the two websites above, as well at advocates@Mo4arts.org.

Now, here’s what we each, as arts supporters, must do in the coming months:

  • With elections approaching, it’s time to contact federal, state and local candidates and let them know they need to speak out and commit to supporting the arts, and that you will be watching how they vote — especially those running to replace Governor Brownback, who demolished the Kansas Arts Commission altogether. Who among those candidates will reverse that action and pledge to return National Endowment for the Arts funding to Kansas by reinstituting the state’s art commission, a prerequisite for Kansans access to NEA dollars?
    And which federal office candidates will fight President Trump if he threatens to dismantle the National Endowment for the Arts as he did in 2017? Now is the time to ask incumbents and candidates alike.
  • In Missouri, the action begins now with consideration of the Governor’s Budget. Watch carefully for appropriations for the arts and let your representative and senator know how you value increased support. Ask for full appropriation for the Missouri Arts Council and the Cultural Partners from the Professional Athletes and Entertainers Tax, as required by statute.

Mark your calendar and plan to attend Citizen’s Day at the Legislature on Feb. 7, 2018 in Jefferson City. ArtsKC will provide comfortable transportation to and from this fun and powerful day of advocating at the Missouri State House — a day when like-minded folks can enjoy their collective influence and show the governor, our representatives and senators that we too think they should support the arts. To reserve transportation call (816) 221-1777. It’s a feel-good experience to make one’s voice heard!

“Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.”

Franklin Roosevelt

Susan Schmelzer

Susan Schmelzer is a community activist who has served in leadership roles on several boards, currently including the Executive Committee of Missourians Citizens for the Arts, which advocates for state arts funding. Her devotion to the arts began as a vocal music major, while her professional background spans careers in higher education and nonprofit consulting.

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