Monday, April 22, 2013

Putting the $ in Mu$ic

Yo-Yo Ma gave a great speech recently in Washington, DC as a part of Arts Advocacy Day. The cornerstone of his message was "the edge effect" - the space where different things meet.

The term actually comes from science. The edge effect occurs in the transition zone between two ecological communities, and gives way to greater diversity in life forms. For instance, where the forest and the grasslands meet, there are more varieties of insect, animal, and plant life than in the forest alone. Similarly, on the borders of countries are often found more variety of languages, races, and cultures than in the middle of a country. The result in these spaces is increased ability to support life, flexibility and biodiversity.

Yo-Yo smartly related this to the arts by discussing the intersections between the arts and what are more commonly thought of as the pillars of our society: economics, politics and culture. In today's blog, I want to focus on economics, because as artists and arts managers I think we have the most to gain by making a strong economic case for the arts.

Thankfully, I have help. No, not from other artists or arts enthusiasts, but from the economic community! This week the Bureau of Economics is implementing new changes to the way our GDP is calculated. GDP is the total dollar value of all goods and services produced in the US. One of the changes comes in the form of Artistic Originals - long-lasting art such as TV shows, books, movies and music. 

How big is this change in representing the US economy? Creative works will add 0.5% to our GDP. Or $75 Billion.

Wow, that's a lot. Like, a whole lot.

So - by simply acknowledging that the arts brings in money (royalties, ticket sales, related merch, what have you), we can increase the bleak economic outlook of the US by $75 Billion. Mind you, this doesn't change anything, or increase transactions that are occurring. It just lifts the veil on what had previously been ignored.  It also allows for more confidence in artistic investment and involvement by non-artists. It's a huge step in saying the arts could very well be a huge export for the US.

We're not just talking about theories and formulas when we discuss economics of the arts. These are real jobs, real people, real incomes that are created by the arts. I go to a lot of concerts - it's my job. It's not my job, however, to go out to eat with my friends or colleagues before the shows. Yet, I do about 50% of the time. People who go to concerts/shows less frequently might go out to eat 90% of the time before a show. So what does this amount to? Income for restaurants, tips for waiters, valet parking revenue, and maybe some high bar tabs if they're going out with me! Plain and simple - it's increased economic activity that is directly tied to the arts.

We shouldn't stop at food and drink though.When you drive into New York City, you will see countless billboards with concert, theatre and movie advertisements. Someone was paid to design these ads. Another company was paid to print them. Contract laborers were paid to hang them and the company that owns the ad space was paid to rent it out. With year-round advertising in just one square mile outside of New York City, imagine how many salaries along that chain are paid for directly because of arts activity.

Now we're on a roll. The travel industry is a huge beneficiary of the arts. How many people do you know that have taken a plane, train or bus to NYC to see a Broadway show? How many hotel rooms do you think get filled by musicians when the Philadelphia Orchestra goes on tour through the Midwest? How many people take taxis and subways/metro to the local performing arts center each night when Beyoncé is in town? The amount of transportation revenue from the arts is pretty incredible to think about.

I strive to remind people that we are not only a feel-good industry that makes the world a more inspired place. True, a lot of people like the arts and the good feelings that come with them. Those people also spend money that helps put a waiter through college and keeps a taxi in business on an otherwise slow night. The arts is a huge economic engine that can turn around a neighborhood, a city, and maybe even a whole economy.

If you want to watch (or read) Yo-Yo's speech, here it is:

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