Stanford Social Innovation Review : Informing and inspiring leaders of social change

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Arts

Arts Play Critical Community Role

The nonprofit arts industry is vital to our quality of life and prospects for economic growth.

Arts and culture make a big impact on local communities and economies but can fall below the radar of citizens, government, business and civic groups.

Now, building on their traditional role of raising operating support for arts groups, local arts councils are working to raise awareness about the social and economic role the arts play, to engage the arts in social change and economic growth, and to help arts groups develop endowments to sustain them for the long-term.

A study a year ago by Americans for the Arts found nonprofit arts and culture in 2005 generated $166.2 billion in spending in the U.S., up from $134 billion in national economic activity in 2000. The study also found the nonprofit arts industry generates $26.9 billion in annual federal, state and local tax revenue throughout the U.S. and accounts for 5.7 million jobs.

Beyond the economic impact those numbers reflect, the nonprofit arts industry is critical to our communities’ quality of life and their prospect for economic growth.

To better tell the arts’ story and to gear the arts to play a more active role in shaping public policies that affect our communities’ future, arts councils are retooling themselves. In North Carolina, for example, the United Arts Council of Greater Greensboro is working to help the arts play a more strategic role in strengthening the local economy, improving education and attracting visitors. The council also is working to generate the investment, participation and attention the arts need to play that strategic role.

The neighboring Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County is spearheading efforts to better promote the arts, raise money for arts groups and facilities, and boost the arts as a force in downtown growth and economic development. And in Charlotte, The Greater Charlotte Cultural Trust, housed at Foundation for the Carolinas, advises partner groups of the Arts & Science Council on setting up planned-giving programs, and also handles the management of gift pledges, as well as investment services for endowments that arts groups create at the trust.

To compete effectively in a global marketplace, particularly in the face of a looming recession, the arts need to tell their story better, and communities need to embrace the nonprofit arts and culture industry as an important partner in building a promising future.

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