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The Role of the Arts in a Shifting Economy: A Discussion at Sundance

October 8, 2012


Last week, I had the privilege of attending a National Arts Policy Roundtable at the Sundance Preserve in Utah sponsored by Americans for the Arts and the Sundance Institute. The National Arts Policy Roundtable is a leading arts policy assembly, and since 2006 more than 175 decision makers and thought leaders have gathered at Sundance to recommend policies and strategies that are critical to advancing the arts and creativity in the United States.

This gathering included more than 50 nonprofit, business and foundation leaders who examined how the arts industry is at the forefront of revitalizing communities and transforming the American economy. The discussion was led by Robert Lynch, President of Americans for the Arts, and Robert Redford, Founder and President of the Sundance Institute.

Participants included leaders such as Marty Albertson, Chairman of Guitar Center; Akhtar Badshah, Director of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Microsoft Corporation; Susan Coliton, Vice President of the Paul G. Allen Foundation; Thelma Golden, Director of Studio Museum in Harlem; Dr. Kathryn Graddy, Chair of the Department of Economics at Brandeis University; Frank Hodsoll and Bill Ivey, former chairmen of the National Endowment for the Arts; Jeremy Nowak, President of the William Penn Foundation; The Honorable Michael Nutter, Mayor of Philadelphia; Dr. Manuel Pastor, Professor of American Studies & Ethnicity at the University of Southern California; Rona Sebastian, President of the Herb Alpert Foundation; and Jon Spector, President of the Conference Board (I'm leaving out many people so my apologies to them).

The key questions for discussion were:

  • How can the arts continue to flourish in this "new normal" of economic challenge?
  • What new paradigms and partnerships can be developed to help the arts help communities?
  • What challenges must be addressed?

At the beginning of the meeting, Randy Cohen, Vice President of Research and Policy at Americans for the Arts, presented a broad array of economic data, including:

  • The American arts industry is comprised of almost one million nonprofit organizations and arts-related businesses, ranging from museums, symphonies and theaters to film, architecture and advertising companies.
  • Nonprofit arts and cultural organizations alone are responsible for:
    • 4.25 percent of the total businesses in the United States
    • 3.3 million workers, which is 2.1 percent of the overall labor force
    • $135 billion in annual economic activity
    • $22 billion in government revenue

Also, according to Americans for the Arts, nonprofit arts organizations generate a significant amount of event-related spending by their audiences. The typical arts attendee spends about $25 per person per event – for things like meals, transportation, souvenirs and child care -- beyond the cost of admission.

These statistics informed two days of discussion on a number of challenges and opportunities for arts organizations in advancing creativity in America while diversifying funding sources and responding to changes in demographics. While I can't reveal the specifics of our discussion here, I can say that a series of recommendations were made at the end of the gathering, which will be used by Americans for the Arts in future strategic planning.

We were also treated to terrific performances by young artists Kelley Kessel (vocalist), Da'Shawn Mosley (writer), Kenyon Adams (actor, musician, vocalist) and Marc Bamuthi Joseph (performance), and a provocative documentary film, Studio H, by director Patrick Creadon. And, we got to experience the Sundance Preserve releasing a number of hawks and owls into the wild after they had been rehabilitated following injuries – most often caused by humans. Very cool.

If you have any questions or comments, please let me know by clicking here and sending me an email message.
 

P.S. Did you know that according to the National Endowment for the Arts analysis of U.S. Census data, artists are 3.5 times more likely than other workers to be self-employed while the vast majority of arts nonprofit organizations are operated as small businesses?

 

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