New report measures economic impact of arts in N.H.

For years, New Hampshire's nonprofit theaters, art galleries, historical societies and museums have had little more than anecdotal evidence to point to in talking about the economic impact they have in their communities.

But a new statewide report, the first of its kind conducted in New Hampshire, has taken a data-driven look at the economic impact of the state's nonprofit arts and culture sector. And the results are promising.

"For years and years and years, we have relied on anecdotes…and have never really been good about collecting real, hardcore data," said Van McLeod, commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Cultural Resources. "As far as that goes, this is the first time we've done this."

Released Thursday by the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts, the report — which was prepared by Americans for the Arts — found that 21 percent of the state's nonprofit arts and culture organizations generate $115.1 million in total economic activity, supporting the equivalent of 3,493 full-time jobs. That's more than double the national median of $49.1 million, it found.

The report's figures were compiled through two separate surveys. One surveyed nonprofit arts and cultural organizations in the state, and the other surveyed audience members attending events at those venues.

For the first survey, 161 of the nearly 775 New Hampshire arts and culture nonprofits identified by the state arts council responded with detailed financial information for the 2010 fiscal year. The second survey, which was completed in 2011, randomly polled more than 3,400 audience members attending events at the participating venues about their expenditures before, during and after the event.

Of the $115.1 million, spending by the nonprofit organizations makes up a bit less than half of that total, or $53 million. The remaining $62.1 million comes from event-related spending by audiences.

Among those attending art and culture attractions in the Granite State, the survey found that nearly 20 percent of audience members were not New Hampshire residents. These non-residents tended to spend about 80 percent more than residents, it also found. On average, each person spent almost $35 per event more than the cost of the ticket on things like meals, parking, shopping and hotel rooms.

Almost two-thirds, or 60 percent, of the out-of-state event attendees said the primary reason for their trip was to attend a specific event, and 8.4 percent reported staying at least one night away from home, bumping their per-person spending up to about $155.These figures affirm the cultural community's importance to the state's tourism industry, said McLeod.

The report did not include economic activity generated by individual artists or for-profit arts and culture venues, such as the Verizon Center, Meadowbrook U.S. Cellular Pavilion or movie theaters.

Because the survey did not use any multipliers, the $115 million figure represents the numbers reported by the 21 percent of participating nonprofits and the audience members polled, meaning the total economic impact of the sector is likely much higher.

"In some ways I'm disappointed, because it doesn't take into consideration a lot of the pieces, but that's our challenge for the next time — this is a snapshot and our first step as a state," said McLeod.

The report also found that the nonprofit arts and culture sector generates $79.5 million in household income to local residents, and provides $11.6 million in local and state government revenue.

McLeod said the importance of the survey is twofold: For one, it's important for the communities to understand the impact that arts and culture nonprofit organizations have; but it also gives the organizations "an understanding of who they are in their community."

And, he added, arts and culture are essential to economic development "because we've certainly seen that corporations and companies choose to come here and are actually able to hire people more easily when there's a cultural community that's there."

The statewide study was funded by Tom Putnam and the Putnam Foundation.

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