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Arts and the Kentucky Economy

by Jeff Worley

The arts in Kentucky have given us pleasure, made us laugh, made us cry and made us think. The arts have also enriched us in a literal sense--adding millions of dollars to the state's economy.

The economic impact of arts organizations alone in Kentucky was $22 million in worker earnings and 1,324 jobs in the state last year, according to a recent report published by the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Kentucky. The economic impact of the arts due to arts spending, arts donations, and spending at restaurants, hotels, and shopping near arts events was estimated to be $41.5 million in worker income and 2,400 full-time jobs in the last year.

"The arts are essential to the economic development of the state, not only through direct dollars into the economy but also because the arts are a value-added incentive for drawing new businesses and professionals to the state," says Gerri Combs, director of the Kentucky Arts Council which, with the Kentucky Center for the Arts in Louisville, sponsored this UK study.

The survey also asked households about their willingness to donate money in order to increase the number of arts performances, or to avoid a decrease. The results suggest that the average Kentucky household would be willing to pay $7.38 to increase the number of arts performances by 25 percent. Though this may not seem like a large amount, it suggests that all Kentucky households would be willing to pay $10.9 million to fund a 25 percent expansion in arts performances, in addition to purchasing tickets to those performances. The average Kentucky household spent $104 attending arts performances and events in the last year and donated $48.73 to arts organizations.

"I was surprised by the numbers relating to the value of the arts to Kentuckians, how much they would give to keep or increase the arts and the numbers relating to volunteerism," Combs says. The survey found that Kentucky households on average donated 6.93 hours in the last year to arts organizations.

"And the arts are beneficial to Kentuckians in ways other than economical," says Tim King, vice president of the Kentucky Center for the Arts. "The wide, diversified array of offerings, some mainstream and some not, help to dispel certain perceptions about the provincial nature of the commonwealth by people who don't live here. The arts help tremendously in dispelling that myth."

"The arts are extremely important in the education of our children and to the general livability of the state," Combs adds. "Another benefit is the documentation and continuation of our heritage."

"We wanted to fund this study because we saw it as an opportunity to get a real handle on what's going on in the state, especially in light of the fact that there have been many new centers--in Owensboro, Prestonsburg, Madisonville and Ashland, for example--since the inception of the Kentucky Center for the Arts," King says. A total of 77 arts organizations returned surveys.

One of the reasons for focusing on the regional arts centers, Combs adds,is their potential for spurring economic development in rural areas through their ability to bring in the arts from outside the state, their potential in educating our youth through the arts, and their leadership skills in the arena of social issues--at-risk youth, crime prevention, and keeping kids in school.