The Arts as an Economic Driver

Did you know that the arts inspire, provoke, involve, connect us AND also create jobs and contribute to the economy as a powerful economic driver?  

The economy sustains our physical life—it is the mechanism through which we take care of needs like food and clothing, shelter and transportation. It provides structure for the trading of goods and services. The arts sustain our spiritual and emotional life—they are the mechanism through which we interpret the world, providing insight, joy, sorrow, empathy and wonder. We don’t often consider how the two overlap. But the arts are a business that not only employs people but also generates significant dollars for communities.

In 2015, The Center and 23 other local non-profit arts and culture organizations in the Wood River Valley took part in a national economic impact study conducted by The Americans for the Arts. The Wood River Valley was one of 341 communities across the United States selected to participate. The goal of the study was to take an accurate measurement the arts’ contribution to each of these community’s economies. To participate, 24 arts organizations in the Wood River Valley completed an in-depth survey on their budgets, programs, staff and audiences. Additionally, these organizations surveyed 635 attendees at a variety of arts and cultural events about their experiences and expenditures related to the particular event.


The survey’s findings revealed that these 24 local arts organizations generated $29.3 million annually for the valley’s economy. A detailed and regionally specific formula considered the cost of related activities including meals, transportation, lodging, babysitting and parking. Every person attending a local arts event spends an average of $68 per event, in addition to the cost of tickets. Think about the last concert or lecture you attended and the expenses associated with that night out. Once you remember the waiter you tipped, the picnic you packed or the bus you took, you begin to understand the breadth of the arts’ economic impact. And then there are the direct costs—the expense of the performer and the ticket taker, the rental facility and the treat you purchased before taking your seat. Friends and family who come from out of town for the Arts & Crafts Festival or summer concerts pay lodging and transportation costs that add to the impact. All of these numbers factored into this $29.3 million total—a number that by anyone’s accounting is much more than superfluous!


In fact the results of the survey went further, determining that the arts in the Wood River Valley support about 891 jobs across the community and generate $2.1 million for local governments.


Many of us have chosen to live here—consciously opting in to a mountain lifestyle. We came to this community because of the beauty and recreational activities. But so many choose to stay and put down roots because of the rich year-round arts and culture that allows us to exercise our minds and spirits as well as our bodies. While we don’t want to dissuade you of the notion that the arts’ primary purpose is to elevate and inspire, we also want to celebrate our substantial role as businesses that contribute to this tourism-based community. At The Center, we proudly peddle awe and the intangibles of goose bumps and heart-stopping, hand-clapping joy, but we are also a vital part of why people come here and why they choose to return.


As we consider our direct economic impact, it’s important to recognize another way that arts programs have significant, long term benefit with real economic value: the arts nurture creativity. Center programs provide numerous opportunities for local students in their classrooms and in our museum to exercise curiosity, to hone critical thinking skills and explore self-expression through hands-on activities. For nearly 50 years, The Sun Valley Center for the Arts has been nurturing skills that shape our community’s children into thoughtful responsive citizens, providing them with tools that are vital our nation’s economy. Creativity is among the top 5 applied skills sought by business leaders, per the Conference Board’s Ready to Innovate report—with 72 percent saying creativity is of high importance when hiring. So while we hope to continue serving up opportunities that satisfy the spirit and soul, we are also honored to be able to contribute to the valley’s economy and to our collective future.