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Dallas: Field Testing the Economic Impact of the Arts

Preparing for a briefing to our (Dallas) City Council’s Art, Culture, & Libraries Committee on the Arts & Economic Prosperity IV study, I thought about doing a bit of random testing on the research findings.

I just wanted a few talking points, really, to localize the fantastic data collected, analyzed, and interpreted by the dynamic duo of Randy Cohen and Ben Davidson. I didn’t quite finish my “scientific” research in time for the briefing, but but then Theresa Cameron emailed with an invite for this Blog Salon…and so here it is.

Totally random, not quite scientific, some would say rather biased research. But it does add up.

My first test: event-related spending. To check on the non-local audience spending, I volunteered myself as the test subject and trekked to the lovely city of Fort Worth (38 miles from home, across municipal and county boundaries) to spend the day visiting the Fort Worth Cultural District.

I started at the Amon Carter Museum to view the fantastic exhibition American Vanguards: Graham, Davis, Gorky, de Kooning & Their Circle; followed by a personal pilgrimage to see one of my favorite artworks in North Texas; then a quick peek at the construction of the Kimbell’s expansion; then checked out the work of local artists at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center. I still had the Cowgirl Hall of Fame Museum on my to do list, but at 104 degrees, it was time to stop walking around.

So…like a good Texan, when the heat gets to you…a bit of retail therapy always helps. On my way in, I spied the Montgomery Street Antique Mall, so it was only fair to stop by on my way back to Dallas.

The tally for my day-trip as a cultural tourist in Fort Worth: $209.32.

Here’s the breakdown:

Ground transportation: $15.98 (91.2 miles round trip @ 21 EPA MPG @ $3.68/gallon)  

Meals, snacks, & refreshments: $41.04

Gift/souvenirs: $27.01

Parking: $5

Admission fees: $5

Clothing/Other: $115.29

Of these expenditures, 4.3 gallons of gasoline yielded $1.63 in gas taxes to federal and state governments, and the meals and retail purchases yielded another $13.44 in sales tax to state and local governments.

My second test didn’t take me very far from the office. We all use restaurants and parking operators as examples of businesses that benefit from arts audiences—but do they really?

Across the street from the Majestic Theater (where my office is located) are several surface lots and a large parking garage that are heavily used by downtown workers during the day and arts patrons in the evenings when there are performances at the Majestic. I could have counted the cars, checked with the parking operator for some back up data, but better yet, let the pictures tell the story:

Parking lot at the corner of Elm & Harwood on an average weeknight (around 6:30 p.m.):

Maybe 20 cars (and I bet a few of those belong to my late-working staff!).

Parking lot at the corner of Elm & Harwood on 6/21/2012, around 7:00 p.m. on a performance night at the Majestic:

At $10 per car…well, you do the math.

So, the next time that someone looks at me askew when I tell the story of the economic impact of arts audiences, I’m just going to show them a few pictures…

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