Making the case for arts and museums |

Making the case for arts and museums


The state’s arts and cultural institutions plan to make a case to the Utah Legislature this year that funding programs and performances creates jobs.

That’s always been true, explained Margaret Hunt, director of the Utah Division of Arts and Museums, but they haven’t always done a good job selling it.

The importance of making that point is legislators often differentiate requests for funding by distinguishing between income producers and consumers.

For example, when Leigh von der Esch, director of the Office of Tourism, asks the Legislature Feb. 3 not to lower her budget proposed by the governor (for $7 million same as last year) she can argue it’s an investment. Every dollar spent promoting the state brings in more tax dollars from visiting tourists.

But recipients of arts and culture grants can make that argument also, said Teri Orr, executive director of the Eccles Center for Performing Arts at the Park City High School.

About 5.7 million people work in the arts across the country. It’s a $166 billion industry, she said.

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"We’re generators of incomes as well as recipients of grants," she said.

The Eccles Center employs staff and pays performers. Those performers stay in hotels, eat meals, buy sweaters and rent ski boots or fishing poles while they’re here. If a performer has a good time in Park City, they tell other performers. It’s a great way to market the state to a group that is otherwise hard to target.

The Sundance Film Festival is a perfect example, she said.

"We’re the center of the film universe for 10 days. That message gets sent all over the planet, she said.

Arts and museums equal jobs, Hunt emphasized.

"As a profession we recognize we haven’t provided the right kind of information to our budget authorizers for them to understand the real economic impact of this sector on the economy, and that’s something we’re working really hard to do in the future," she said.

When the Governor’s Office of Economic Development promotes the state to lure businesses here, they always tout its "livability," Hunt explained. An essential aspect of that are the state’s cultural offerings.

Leigh von der Esch said culture is a vital aspect of her office’s "Utah Life Elevated" campaign and Park City’s offerings are integral to its appeal to outside visitors.

That’s why Hunt’s office began measuring a Creative Vitality Index about four years ago. Working with the Western States Arts Federation, they track the industry’s impact on the Utah economy.

When all things are equal in a community, what draws young workers are places with vibrant social activities. Communities with cultural activities have an easier time retaining young workers, she said.

She likened the impact of the arts on attracting young professionals to a community to the impact of aesthetics on marketing a product.

"People don’t make decisions entirely on cost. When buying a cell phone, you will also look at design and style," she said. "All things being equal, people go with what’s beautiful and appealing in an esthetic, visual way."

In that way, the importance of the creative industry goes far beyond the not-for-profit sector.

Then there’s the importance of arts and cultural education, Hunt said.

"In the overall scheme of things, it’s having an impact on the future workforce. Businesses are looking for more innovative and creative workers," she said.

Orr said she can’t remember a time when creativity and curiosity were more important than today.

"That comes from funding education and from funding the arts," she said.

Neither Hunt nor Orr was willing to predict how their offices would be affected by budget cuts.

Neither would von der Esch, although as early as last October she expressed trepidation over the current legislative session.

She said last week she has been "absolutely delighted" with Gov. Gary Herbert’s commitment to tourism and said she supports his proposal to match last year’s allotment for promotion.

"For the figure to not have gone down in a very tough budget year is good news," she said.

Park City Chamber/Bureau president Bill Malone echoed that sentiment. He supports matching last year’s amount.

"We are hopeful it sticks considering how difficult it will be to pass a budget," he said via email.

All von der Esch has to do to stay positive is look at the big picture. Even if her office only gets $7 million, that’s nearly eight times the office’s budget when she started five years ago. At that time, tax revenue from tourism spending saved the average Utah family $480 in taxes. In 2008 it saved the average family $800. The projection for 2009 is expected to be only slightly below that, she said.

"We want to get up to $800 again, but even if we slip, we’re seeing a 200 to 300 percent increase in release on households because of the importance of this industry," von der Esch added.

Feb. 10 will be "Tourism on the Hill Day." Members of the industry will attend special events between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. reminding lawmakers of the importance of tourism to the state’s economy before the appropriations committee makes its final recommendations, she said.