Arts and cultural organizations spend $295 million a year on local goods and services, study shows

National research underscores value of the arts to the community

A slide emphasizes the economic impact of arts and cultural organizations’ consumption of local goods and services. Image courtesy Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County

Arts and cultural organizations in Sarasota County pump about $295 million per year into the local economy through the goods and services they purchase, the latest study by a national organization that supports the arts has found.

That was the news Jim Shirley, executive director of the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County, gave the county’s Tourist Development Council (TDC) on Feb. 15.

That $295 million, Shirley added, is about three times the national average. The money goes for a range of needs — from plumbing services to technical assistance, he pointed out during the TDC’s regular meeting. It reflects just the arts and cultural entities in Sarasota County that receive almost $2 million in county grants each year for programming designed to expand tourism, he noted. The funding for those programs comes out of Tourist Development Tax (TDT) revenue the county collects from rentals of accommodations.

Under the guidelines of the TDT allocations, Shirley noted, one-half of 1 cent of the 5% tax goes to the arts.

Every four years, he explained, the Alliance collaborates with the Americans for the Arts as the latter organization undertakes a study on the impact of the arts on the U.S. economy. “It’s a fairly good investment for us, I think,” he added of the annual county arts grants.

The latest survey results also show that 50% of the 2.5 million people each year who attend arts and cultural events in Sarasota County are tourists.

Visitors generally go to more than one performance or visual arts exhibit, he emphasized. “They get involved heavily in the arts. … All you’ve got to do is look at the parking lots of these venues. … There’s a lot of activity.”

A second graphic points to tourist attendance at arts and cultural programs. Image courtesy Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County

Finally, he said, the survey showed that 7,445 people in the county are employed by arts and cultural organizations. That figure is more than triple the number for regions of similar size, Shirley explained.

Those employees own homes, dine in local restaurants and purchase services, too, he said, generating even more money for the economy.

Jill Luke, the North Port City Commission’s appointee to the TDC, told Shirley, “You guys do such a wonderful job.”

She noted the slide regarding the spending by arts organizations in Sarasota County and asked whether Shirley had more information about how the other communities support the arts.

They are cities and communities across the United States, he replied, but he had no details about their programs. Manhattan and Philadelphia, for example, could have been included in the survey. He just knows that each community that participates in the data collection has its own system for funding programs, he added.

Jim Shirley. File photo

Then Shirley told the TDC members, “A lot of us don’t understand we have an unusually, unusually, strong arts and cultural community. There’s almost nowhere else in the United States like this,” he added, referring to the concentration of programs in Sarasota County.

TDC member Bharat Patel, owner of the Quality Inn Sarasota Airport, said he has guests who return each year just so they can attend Sarasota Opera’s performances. The community has many arts events, he added, that attract visitors who not only pay higher room rates but also give of their time and money to local initiatives.

Expansion of grant recipients

As for the grants the Alliance awards each year: Shirley pointed out that Feb. 23 is the deadline for the applications for the 2019 fiscal year. He added that he anticipates “in the neighborhood of” 36 to 38 applications for that cycle from organizations throughout the county. “As a part of their application,” he stressed, “they must demonstrate a one-for-one match” of the funds they seek.

For example, Shirley said, if an organization asks for an $80,000 grant for a specific program or exhibit, it must prove that it will invest $80,000 of its own money into the same project.

Sarasota Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie noted that she just joined the TDC last fall. She recalled a discussion, she continued, about the “concerted effort” of Alliance representatives to encourage nonprofits that have not done so to apply for the annual grants the County Commission awards.

“It’s a very arduous and complex process and can be intimidating,” she pointed out of applying for the assistance. When she asked whether Shirley could update the TDC members about any first-time recipients of funding for the 2019 fiscal year, he replied that he could not, because the grant recommendations had not been completed.

Nonetheless, he continued, over the past five years, the number of applications approved for funding had risen from 31 to 37, “which, statistically, is a fairly significant increase.”

The Circus Arts Conservatory’s Winter 2018 program, which will continue performances through March 4, received one of the county’s arts grants for the current fiscal year. Photo by Cliff Roles for the Circus Arts Conservatory

The Arts and Cultural Alliance staff, he continued, actively encourages organizations that never have applied for the grants to do so. However, he said, “the hardship we run into” is that to be considered for funding, an organization “must be able to demonstrate that [it attracts] tourists to Sarasota County.”

After the FY19 grants process has been completed, Freeland Eddie asked Shirley to provide an update to the TDC on the recipients.

“I challenge each one of us also to make local organizations aware [of the annual arts grants],” said County Commissioner Charles Hines, chair of the TDC. Members of the advisory council should make time to meet with groups, he added, to help spread the word.

“We’ve been busy tweaking [the application process] for a number of years,” Hines continued. When he first was elected to the commission — in 2012 — “there was a north/south issue,” he added, referring to complaints that arts organizations in North County fared better in the application process than those in South County. “I think Jim’s doing better at it, but we can help with that also.”