Utah loves the arts.
And we have some truly world class arts organizations:
- The Utah Shakespeare Festival has won the regional Tony Award.
- The Utah Symphony is one of the only full-time symphonies in the country, thanks largely to their partnership with Utah Opera.
- Dance companies like Ririe-Woodbury, Repertory Dance Theatre, and Ballet West are known and respected throughout the world.
- The Hale Center Theatre in Sandy is the largest community theatre in the country and regularly sells out almost every performance.
- And many, many more examples that I could talk for days about.
Utah also loves it’s arts education. Our dance studios, performing studios, not to mention the quality of our high school arts programs cannot be beat anywhere in the country. And they’re churning out young people who are exceptionally talented and regularly show-up and win on national TV arts competitions like So You Think You Can Dance, Dancing with the Stars, American Idol, and The Voice.
But we’re also missing out on a huge opportunity. Those very well established arts organizations generally bring in their artists from out of state rather than hiring our local talent. And we’re seeing a lot fewer young and mid-sized arts organization than you can find in other comparably sized metropolitan areas like Minnapolis/St. Paul, Atlanta, or Denver. That means that as our kids grow up, if they want to make a living pursuing their art, they have to move some where else to do that.
And that means we’re missing out on a tremendous economic opportunity. The arts have a tremendous ripple effect on the communities they’re located in. In their most recent economic impact study, Americans for the Arts estimated that for every ticket to a non-profit arts event, people spend an additional $31.47. And that’s just the local people. When someone comes from out of county, it can jump dramatically. The Cedar City Arts council figures that every out of town person that comes to see a show at the Utah Shakespeare Festival spends an additional $137.35 for each ticket that they buy, and 90.6% of their attendees are out of county. Iron County recognizes what a huge economic driver the Festival is for their tourism industry.
So you can see why the city of Sandy fought so hard to get Hale Centre Theatre to build their new theatre there. The Salt Lake City Arts Council figures that attendees of arts events in their area spend an average of $26.25 per ticket over and above the cost of admission. The new Hale Centre Theatre has two spaces, one that seats 900 and the other seats 475. They do eight shows a week when they’re running and sell about 95% of their seats. That means that each show in the big theatre brings in $179,550 in additional revenue for surrounding businesses EACH WEEK. Shows in the small theatre bring in $94,763 for the surrounding community EACH WEEK. Of course Sandy would want to bring in that kind of money for their businesses and their own tax base. And the arts do have an impact on taxes. Americans for the Arts figure that for every dollar that government invests in non-profit arts organizations, they see $5 back in taxes for local, state, and federal governments. The arts are an incredible return on investment.
To take more advantage of both the economic and social benefits of the arts, I believe we need to invest in more arts incubator spaces, those places to help young artists and arts organization get their feet under them as they’re starting out. Just like there are small business incubator spaces for new business, we can create arts incubator spaces for new arts businesses. This needs to happen particularly in urban areas along the Wasatch Front but outside of Salt Lake County. This will have a two-fold benefit:
- It will help us get many new professional non-profit arts organizations in areas that currently do not have the kinds of professional arts organizations found in Salt Lake. This increase in the number of new professional arts organizations will spread the economic benefit of these arts organizations across more of the population of the state.
- These new, young, arts organizations will provide venues and outlets for our incredibly talented youth to find jobs doing what they love, closer to home. As I’ve talked to young people in the arts, the vast majority of them love Utah and want to stay here. But often the choice is give up their home or give up the career they love. We can provide a way for them to have both and for us to reap the economic and social benefit of keeping them close to home.