Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live

KPBS Midday Edition

Study Reveals Arts Impact In City And County

"Moby-Dick" at the San Diego Opera.
Hilary Andrews
"Moby-Dick" at the San Diego Opera.
Randy Cohen and Seema Sueko, Economic Impact of the Arts
Study Reveals Arts Impact In City And County
Randy Cohen, Americans for the Arts Seema Sueko, San Diego Regional Arts and Culture Coalition A national study reveals the impact of arts spending in San Diego city and county. The national study also provides comparisons to cities and counties of comparable size.

ST. JOHN: You're listening to Midday Edition on KPBS. I'm Alison St. John. Would you call San Diego a cultured city? Is the art scene a key part of our identity? You could think about how often you go to the theatre or a symphony or the Casbah for that matter. And whether you feel proud of what San Diego has to offer. There's a new report out that puts a more objective slant to that question. It shows some of the arts contribute significantly to the San Diego economy Tin fact, more than in some other cities of our size. And Randy Cohen is vice president of research for Americans for the arts. COHEN: Good afternoon. ST. JOHN: Thanks so much for joining us. Also in studio, we have a familiar voice to our listeners, Seema Sueko. The artist director of Mo'olelo performing arts company. Randy, this study looks at how arts impacts the economy all over the country. How does San Diego stack up? COHEN: San Diego stacks up very strongly. Just a fabulous arts and culture community here. What we did is we looked at spending just by nonprofit arts and cultural organizations. So those are your theatre, skimp nos, the opera, symphonies, the opera, and the spending by their audiences. The last time you went to a show, went out for drinks after, dinner, lots of economic activity related to that event. When you total up spending by the arts organizations which is $272 million a year, and then the audience spending, that's $665 million of economic activity just right here in San Diego County. That's a huge amount of activity. ST. JOHN: How does that relate to other cities? Like Phoenix a similar size to us. COHEN: San Diego is indeed larger. They come out on the higher end. San Diego was one of 182 studied regions in this national study. And they definitely come out higher than the average community of this population size. ST. JOHN: Do you have any explanations for why that is? COHEN: You know, it's -- I tell you, if you look over the last 20 years, the way the communities embrace the art, and the way the government has invested in the arts, you turn the clock back a couple decades, and there was a real deliberate strategy to change the sand and surf image of San Diego into a community of culture and creativity. And I think they have been very effective at that. ST. JOHN: Now, one of the things that you found is that tourism is a bilge part of the arts -- big part of the arts economy in San Diego. COHEN: What we did to get at this whole audience spending piece, and the typical attendee spends $43 per person per event, not including the cost of the ticket. ST. JOHN: Really. >> Yeah, on meals and parking and the like. Much higher than the national average. So we did over 800 audience intercept surveys where we just asked people, how much did you spend on meals, on transportation, parking, that kind of thing. We also asked each of those folks for their Zip Code. Because we wanted to find out, do you live in the county, in which case you're local, or are you from outside the county, in which case you're nonlocal. 17% of the attendees come from outside of San Diego County. And what's amazing is how much more the nonlocal attendees spend. $60 per person versus $39 for their local counterparts. So it starts to make this compelling case that arts and culture is not only a wonderful product that includes our quality of life and makes our communities places we want to live, it draws people to the community, and those people spend a lot of money. ST. JOHN: Now, Seema, you're on the commission here. And I guess you're pretty steeped in all these figures. But does this report surprise you? SUEKO: Yes, yes and no. Those of us who work in arts and culture organizations in San Diego have an idea of all the other industries we impact, from restaurants and hotels to florists to printing and mailing, parking, and then all the salaries that we're paying. So we know that anecdotally. And then the city of San Diego's commission for -- we have a sense of return on investment. This report is county wide, and it captures beyond what the commission of arts and culture just funds, and the impact of the numbers are astonishing, and it's very validating for all of us who work so hard in arts and culture here in San Diego. ST. JOHN: And what's your thoughts about what drives the arts economy here in San Diego? SUEKO: That's a great question. I think some of the strengths of what we do in San Diego are diversity, innovative and the entrepreneurial spirit as well. So I'll speak a little bit about diversity. We have a large range of different disciplines that are represented, organization size, budget sizes, geographic location, missions, peoples served, communities served, and that diversity creates a vibrant ecology of the arts community. I run a theatre company, and I can see how artists start to work with us, and then they get jobs at larger companies and so on. And that type of job promise is what can attract people to the arts in San Diego. In the entrepreneurial realm, my theatre company developed the green theatre choices cool kit. We've become a model for greening the theatre industry. It's a kilt used by some producers on Broadway, theatres in Australia, Belgium, and that's innovating the field. I'd like to point out the Aja project, a leader in cultural competence issues. Ion theatre recently did a show with actors working with robots. That kind of innovative thinking and spirit drives the San Diego arts and culture community. ST. JOHN: Randy mentioned that the city supports the arts. And we have heard of all the budget cuts on the arts here in San Diego, but does the city in fact support the arts more than in some other cities? COHEN: Well, I would say absolutely. San Diego has been a great example of local government investment, and city leadership as well. And it's certainly recognized around the country. We have served the nation's 5,000 local arts commissions and agencies, Americans for the arts does. So you've got great local leadership here. ST. JOHN: Seema, you cohair a local arts advocacy organization. Of you're pretty familiar with where the two remaining mayoral candidates stand. SUEKO: Well, I want to preface this by saying this is my interpretation of their remarks, and what they've both written. ST. JOHN: Your personal opinion SUEKO: Yes, it's not's representative of the coalition. My interpretation of the remarks made by councilman DeMaio is that he's a little unfriendly to arts and culture in his roadmap to recovery has proposed cutting arts and culture by 25%. He talked about funding only large projects. And then he also talked about -- he really challenges the current allocations process. I run a small theatre company that is woman-run, minority-run, and we are committed to representing diverse voices. And we find the City of San Diego commission for arts and culture application and allocations process to be very fair, open, transparent, democratic, responsible. And we've received funding every year since 2005. And so when I hear him questioning that allocations process, it makes me question him. ST. JOHN: Well, I understand that DeMaio is saying that the allocations process might be changed in a way to encourage more innovative, creative culture, and that he's dissatisfied with the way that it currently exists. What leads you to believe that perhaps he would be less friendly to the arts? SUEKO: Because he's proposed cutting the commission of arts and culture. ST. JOHN: Okay. And how about Bob Filner? SUEKO: He at the forum spoke very favorably for supporting arts and culture. He said he's not satisfied with funding levels as it is and would like to see it increased. But what really struck me about what he said is we all know the ROI, but he said let's talk about art for art's sake. Its impact what it does for the individual and what it does for the communities. And that was a little bit music to my ears. It made me think about some of the mayors I really admire in our nation. And I'd love to see our mayoral candidates have arts policies as part of their campaigns. I'll give you an example. Mayor Nuttern in Philadelphia has created a cultural advisory council, and they developed a vision plan, and it has goals and objectives and strategies to realize Philadelphia's vision for a thriving arts and culture community. It includes things for goals like world recognition of Philadelphia, accessibility of arts and culture for all people in Philadelphia, making sure arts and culture are core to the city's economic, development, tourism, a community revitalization strategy, arts education for children, and making sure arts organizations have access to resources, it's a comprehensive vibrant plan, I'd love to see our candidates talk like that. ST. JOHN: And would you agree that's one of the cities that's doing it right? COHEN: Philadelphia does a great job. And mayor Nutter is chairman of the national conference of mayors. And at their national meeting in Orlando, they passed a resolution unanimously touting this arts and economic prosperity study that we're talking about today. In fact, they say the U.S. conference of mayors, urges mayors to invest in the arts to, stimulate business development, spur urban renewal, attract tourisms, and improve quality of life. So there's a lot of recognition from the mayoral community. And quality of life, the arts stimulate us, delight us, entertain us. A lot of times folks need to hear the message about the economic benefit for example. ST. JOHN: Let's talk about the ways different cities are using the arts. Miami Florida has a huge arts economy. How do they manage that? COHEN: Well, again, there's great public sector leadership in Miami. And they've attracted art basil, which is an international art conference which is in Miami once a year, and that's hugely successful. ST. JOHN: That's like an arts fair? COHEN: Yes. Of an international scale. ST. JOHN: And we have one of those, don't we? SUEKO: We do. Art fair San Diego, which I think is coming up in San Diego of this year. And it's doing tremendous work in bringing national and international visibility to San Diego's art scene. ST. JOHN: It's only been going for a couple of years, right? SUEKO: Exactly, and yes very successful. >> We've talked about the importance of the supply side, and all government sector, private sector, we've all got a roll in insuring a vibrant arts community. But I would also want to commend the arts organizations themselves. If you're not capture the minds and imaginations of the people who lev in your community, all the subsidy in the world is not going to make a difference. Sowhat I see is the arts really embraced here. The airport public art here is award-winning. ST. JOHN: Seema you were smiling in agreement. But what do you think it would take to get the arts thriving like it is in Miami for example? SUEKO: That's a great question. We have great leadership here in the city of San Diego. Victoria Hamilton leads the commission for arts and culture. Mayor Sanders has done a lot to really talk about arts as being core to economic development. I think where we can do better, actually, is in our relationship with the business community. There are some other cities where business leaders -- when a new business sets up shop, other business leaders go up and say hey, goes what? You need to invest in arts and culture. Make sure your corporate giving policy has given to arts and culture. We do have some corporate leaders here in San Diego. Qualcomm foundation does a wonderful job supporting the arts and culture community. But I think we can do better. ST. JOHN: Obviously the economic downturn may affect how much accidents feel free to support the arts. Your study was conducted in 2010. Did you see that play out? COHEN: Yes, what we saw was nationally with the organizations. Between 2005 and 2010, nationally, just about a 3% decrease in organizational spending, which to me showed great resiliency. Arts organizations are very localized businesses. And they employ people locally and purchase goods and services in the community. And there's a lot of stability that comes with that as well, and they're more durable than the economic cycles. Where we saw the biggest change was in the audience spending, and of course unemployment was much higher, consumer confidence much lower, home foreclosures tripled. So nationally, in 2005, the typical others attendee spent -- in 2010, it had dropped to $24.60. So arts organizations held pretty strong, all things considered. The audience spending is where we saw a lot of changes. ST. JOHN: I notice that ComiCon didn't bring -- wasn't a part of your study, and yet that brings in a huge amount of economic benefit. COHEN: Yeah, and that's a fabulous -- it brings people from all over. It's a $665 million industry that supports over 20,000 jobs right here in San Diego County. And $70 million in government revenue. And think how much more it would be if ComiCon or some of these other arts organizations were part of this study. ST. JOHN: You painted a very dynamic picture there. I'd like to thank my guests. COHEN: Thank you, great to be here. SUEKO: Thank you very much.

A study released earlier this month reveals the economic impact of San Diego's non-profit arts and culture industry. When compared to many cities and regions of comparable size, San Diego's arts industry stacks up pretty well.

In fact, San Diego's arts industry (organization + audience spending) spends more than twice the median of what some similar sized cities spend. For example, the city of Phoenix is slightly bigger than San Diego, but our arts industry spends almost twice as much.

The study, conducted by the non-profit Americans for the Arts, is being called the most comprehensive economic impact study of arts spending ever conducted in the United States.


Randy Cohen is one of the study's authors and joins us in studio to talk about the study. Seema Sueko is the artistic director at Mo'olelo Performing Arts Company and co-chair of the San Diego Regional Arts and Culture Coalition. She joins the conversation and talks about the study's findings in the context of the mayoral race and the local theater scene.