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Study: Arts are an economic asset

Nonprofit arts groups, including museums, orchestras, theaters and dance companies, contributed $166.2 billion and 5.7 million jobs to the US economy in 2005, according to an advocacy group urging more funding for the arts.

The numbers undercut a common belief that spending on arts and culture comes at the expense of economic development, said Randy Cohen , vice president of policy and research at Americans for the Arts, which released the report yesterday.

"Support for the arts isn't a black hole," Cohen said. "Arts organizations are businesses. They pay people. They purchase supplies and services. They pay utility bills. That spending supports jobs and generates government revenue."

The economic impact of these nonprofits grew by 24 percent, or 11 percent adjusted for inflation, between 2000 and 2005, according to the report.

In 2000, nonprofit arts groups generated $134 billion in economic activity and 4.9 million jobs, the group said.

The calculations include artists' salaries, the money that arts groups spend on services and supplies, and audience spending on hotels, meals, and parking. Also included is money "re-spent" on salaries and goods within the local community -- for example, groceries purchased by an employee of the printing firm that publishes an arts group's programs.

The Washington-based Americans for the Arts will use the study to argue for greater funding of the arts by government, individuals, companies, and foundations.

Defending arts on economic terms is not a universally accepted approach. The Wallace Foundation, which aims to expand the demand and appreciation for the arts, commissioned a 2004 Rand Corp. study that questioned the strategy. It found most research efforts to tie arts to economic growth fail to prove cause-and-effect, and obscure more basic reasons to support arts.

"It's clear people connect very strongly with significant arts experiences," Edward Pauly , director of research at the Wallace Foundation, said in an interview Monday, before the report was released. "It's not as clear that the economic benefits of the arts will always be greater than putting the same money and priorities into other investments, such as sports stadiums or malls or job development."

The new study was based on information collected from 6,080 nonprofit organizations and 94,478 of their attendees in 156 US communities and regions. There are 100,000 nonprofit arts and culture organizations in the United States, according to Americans for the Arts.

New York City and Los Angeles, each with more than $1 billion in spending by arts organizations, were excluded to avoid inflating the national numbers.

The researchers found that arts groups spent $63.1 billion and their audiences spent $103.1 billion. The result of that spending was $104.2 billion in household income, $7.9 billion in taxes to local governments, $9.1 billion for state taxes, and $12.6 billion for federal taxes, the report said.