Paint by number

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$43.7 million.

That’s how much was spent by nonprofit arts organizations and their audiences in Buncombe County in 2010.

This figure is the first statistic to come from a battery of county and state-based research. The rest came shrouded in anecdotes and analogies delivered during the hourlong presentation from the “Road to Prosperity Tour,” which made its official Asheville stop on the morning of July 20 at the new Dr. Wesley Grant Southside Center. Other stops include Charlotte and Raleigh. About 40 representatives from a handful of Asheville’s arts and culture sector joined to see the cast of local, state and national officials. The information presented was from the 2010 Arts and Economic Prosperity IV study.

Diane Ruggiero, superintendent of Asheville’s Cultural Arts department, started the presentation. Aside from maintaining Asheville’s public arts programs, the department also acts the “provisional county partner” with the N.C. Arts Council. County partners, on a basic level, are responsible for overseeing the distribution of state-funded grants and grants-based programming, such as the Grassroots Arts Program grants.

Wayne Martin, the executive director of N.C. Arts Council, graced the stage momentarily to praise the role of nonprofits in North Carolina, but more specifically our part of the state. “This region is unparalleled,” he said before calling Asheville “The state of art.” (Rather than state of the art, of course.)

Linda Carlisle, the N.C. secretary of cultural resources, followed Martin and introduced the first spoonfuls of arts data, largely in reference to the entire state. But it was Randy Cohen, vice president of research and policy for Americans for the Arts (the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that led the statistical research) bestowed the bulk of the information.

The study measured the 2010 spending of 9,721 nonprofits and 151,802 of their audience members and attendees from 182 communities across the country. Information was compiled from four categories of spending: full-time-equivalent jobs created, resident household income, local revenues raised and state revenues raised.

The $43.7 million accounts for Buncombe County’s localized impact. Of that amount, $16.9 million was directly spent by nonprofit organizations. This funding upheld, created or supplied 550 of 1,427 full-time equivalent arts-based jobs in Buncombe County. There, audiences both local and from out-of-town generated $26.8 million in spending, filling in the other 877 jobs.

Local government revenues generated by the nonprofit arts community totaled $2,288,000. State revenue was $2,465,000.

The average event attendee spent $34.49 on transportation, food and the proverbial “other,” among several measured categories. When the group is subdivided, the average local attendee (59 percent) spent $13.71, while the out-of-towner (41 percent) spent $63.96. And when that out-of-towner stayed the night (27 percent of that 41 percent) the average cost per-person went up to roughly $170.

If you live in Asheville and don’t occasionally work for or with an area nonprofit, then you certainly know people who do. And with that in mind, this sector saw an estimated 4,400 volunteers who gave 147,000 hours of free labor. (Just a side note: The federal government’s 2010 average volunteer hour was worth $21.36.)

As for North Carolina, the nonprofit arts community supports 43,000 jobs, an increase during the past four years. The creative sector raised $56 million in revenue and generated $1.2 billion in direct spending.

Nationally, total direct expenditures reached $135.2 billion, supporting 4.13 million jobs and supplying $9.59 billion in federal revenue.

Where did this information come from?

Americans for the Arts made initial contact with 100 Buncombe County nonprofit agencies. Only 38 replied. These organizations then assisted in contacting multitudes of event attendees, of which more than 1,000 offered details on arts expenditures. This information, combined with state and national numbers, provides a general picture of nonprofit arts spending that could then be focused on local communities.

The study was operated in partnership with 10 national agencies, including Grantmakers in the Arts, The United States Conference of Mayors and National League of Cities. To help with processing the raw data, Americans for the Arts partnered with the Georgia Institute of Technology, who customized analysis models for the various regions.

The last study concluded in 2005.

So what was the morning meeting really about? Numerical flattery.

This study, the fourth of its type, provides numerical evidence of the impact of nonprofit arts and cultural organizations on the local, state and national levels. Keep in mind, this applies only to nonprofits. The study excludes myriad private, for-profit arts galleries, individual artists, music venues and theaters, among other artistic outlets. In other words, the total arts-based impact for Asheville and Buncombe is greater.

On July 20, the “Road to Prosperity Tour” panel was preaching to the choir. And now the choir needs to go preach to everyone else. The arts are often on the proverbial chopping block when local, state and national budgets are up for cut-backs. And thus, this information could furnish a defense. The numbers become the proof, the supporting resource for future appeals — for more state funding, for public projects, for school programs and general arts-based spending.

For a look into the financial realities of life as an artist in the region, see the Feb. 23 Xpress story, “Self-Portrait with Food Stamps.”

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About Kyle Sherard
Book lover, arts reporter, passerby…..

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