Arts play big part in local economy, study shows

Frank Savarese of Fuquay-Varina took this photo during SPARKcon.
Frank Savarese of Fuquay-Varina took this photo during SPARKcon. COURTESY OF FRANK SAVARESE

The nonprofit arts sector is a $557.1 million industry in Wake County, a new study shows.

Local nonprofit arts groups spent $179.1 million in 2015, and their audiences spent $378 million, according to a study by Arts & Economic Prosperity, a research firm based in Washington, D.C.

Most of the money was spent in Raleigh. Nonprofit arts groups in the city spent $167 million in 2015 – more than double the median amount spent by cities of similar size. The spending generated nearly $532 million for the local economy.

The results make clear that Raleigh is a leader in the arts and that the nonprofit industry is an important economic tool, said Sarah Powers, executive director of the city’s arts office.

Powers pointed to a a federal analysis that showed the arts industry contributed more to the nation’s economy in 2014 than the transportation, tourism or construction industries.

“You can say this is a big industry,” Powers said of the arts. “But then when you look at these numbers, you see it’s pretty serious.”

Between the summers of 2014 and 2015, more than 10 million people attended events in Raleigh, according to the new study. Of them, 6.7 million were Wake County residents. Attendees spent an average of $34.34 per person, including $13.79 on food.

Nonprofit arts organizations in Durham County added $154.17 million in spending to the economy, according to the study, which included 341 communities throughout the United States.

Raleigh partnered with the town of Cary and the United Arts Council of Raleigh and Wake County to pay for the study, which cost Raleigh $2,833. The firm examined spending and payrolls of local nonprofits, such as the Visual Art Exchange in Raleigh, as well as consumer spending at nonprofit events like SPARKcon.

Powers said she expects art enthusiasts to use the information as an advocacy tool. She hopes the city will continue to support the arts.

“Can they keep up with the demands of a growing community of this scale?” Powers said. “How can we as a city and community help them thrive, while allowing new artists and organizations to have a place?”

Paul A. Specht: 919-829-4870, @AndySpecht