Park City arts festival pumped $26 million-plus into the economy

Visitors don umbrellas as they walk down Main Street during this year's Park City Kimball Arts Festival.
Park Record file photo

The Park City Kimball Arts Festival palette included lots of green last summer.

The Kimball Art Center, which organizes the annual event and uses the festival as its primary fundraiser each year, recently issued a report detailing the economic impact of the three-day August gathering on Main Street. The report showed the arts festival generated an economic impact of nearly $26.4 million, meaning the event pumped that amount into the economy. The figure was up 13.1 percent from the previous year, an impressive jump on a year-over-year basis. The spending included lodging, meals, the sale of artworks at the event, entertainment and other unspecified purchases. Artist sales combined with vendor sales accounted for more than $1.2 million of the total.

The arts festival, which hit the 50-year mark in 2019, remains for many the top special event on Park City’s summer calendar even amid a roster of sports tournaments and music festivals that have launched in the intervening decades. Many of the other events do not publicly release economic numbers, if they even compile them professionally like the Kimball Art Center or the organizers of the Sundance Film Festival.

For the Kimball Art Center, the numbers represent an important set of data points that can be used as the not-for-profit organization negotiates with City Hall or seeks financial assistance from others for the event.

The festival this year drew 53,550 people. The report found the typical person at the arts festival spent $492. The spending generated more than $2.2 million in taxes, the bulk to the state.

“Cultural tourism is a fast-growing and increasingly essential element of tourism that has a direct, positive impact on the quality of life for local residents, creating both financial and social capital,” Amy Roberts, the senior director of marketing and events at the Kimball Art Center, said in a prepared statement to The Park Record in response to an inquiry about the report. “Events like the Park City Kimball Arts Festival help to diversify our local economy, attract new visitors outside of the traditional tourist season, and most importantly, provide inspiration and connection — which is at the heart of Kimball Art Center’s mission.”

Lighthouse Research drafted the economic report, surveying approximately 450 people in attendance. Since there was a storm on the Saturday of the event this year — the day that data is collected — the Kimball Art Center said the survey was also sent via email to people who provided their addresses.

The report also showed the crowd at the arts festival was highly educated and wealthy. Nearly three out of every four people was a college graduate or held a post-graduate degree. Two-thirds of the people earn $100,000 or more annually. The most popular answer to the question regarding income, at 30 percent, was more than $200,000 per year.

The report provides a backdrop of sorts to an important set of talks between the Kimball Art Center and City Hall as the organization intends to turn the arts festival into a free event. The admission had been set at $15. The Kimball Art Center says festivals that are free to attend have better vibes and many businesses on Main Street oppose the Kimball Art Center’s admission charge for the event.

Park City’s elected officials and the Kimball Art Center at a recent meeting addressed the idea of a free event, and more talks are expected midwinter. The Kimball Art Center wants to increase the number of artist booths. That would require a larger festival footprint. The revenues from the additional booths would offset some of the monies lost by eliminating the admission charge. The Park City Council would need to endorse the expanded footprint.

“The economic impact number is a powerful and persuasive tool Kimball Art Center uses to capture and explain the financial benefits of the Park City Kimball Arts Festival to our community. We understand it can be inconvenient to shut down Main Street for three days, and this data helps us demonstrate the benefits of doing so. The economic impact allows city leaders, residents, our partners, and others to see the economic return on their investment and proves the gain is greater than the pain,” Roberts said in the prepared statement.

The arts festival, though, typically has mixed results for businesses along Main Street itself. Although the crowds descend on Main Street for what is one of the shopping, dining and entertainment strip’s busiest three-day stretches of the year, many of the festival-goers opt to spend their money at the event rather than at the businesses just steps away. The Kimball Art Center over the years has made modifications to the layout of the event that were designed to provide better visibility, and access, to the Main Street businesses, but sales at the shops remain varied.

The Historic Park City Alliance, a group that represents the interests of businesses on Main Street or just off the street, closely watches the arts festival and other events that impact the street. Alison Kuhlow, the executive director, said the arts festival provides lots of exposure for Main Street. Kuhlow said people attending the event may decide to return to Main Street to shop and dine. The arts festival is also used in summer-tourism marketing, she noted.

Kuhlow, though, acknowledged there are diverse results for Main Street businesses during the event itself.

“There’s some businesses that do well with arts festival and then there’s some that don’t,” Kuhlow said.

Editor’s note: Amy Roberts writes a weekly column for The Park Record.


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