Dubuque council backs study to examine economic impact of arts

No one can say what the true value of art is, but City of Dubuque officials are determined to at least figure out what it is locally.

City Council members recently approved spending $3,000 to participate in an in-depth analysis by national organization Americans for the Arts to determine the economic impact that local arts organizations have on their communities.

As part of the Arts & Economic Prosperity VI Study, Americans for the Arts and Iowa Arts Council will examine local ticket sales and jobs created by arts businesses and organizations, as well as determine any additional purchases made in connection with arts events or attractions, such as lodging or food.

The city participated in a prior iteration of the study in 2012 and discovered that art and culture nonprofits generated $47.2 million in annual economic activity and supported the equivalent of 1,530 full-time jobs locally. The study ultimately led the city to invest in programs and grants that promoted the local arts, said City Council Member Ric Jones.

“We were honestly surprised by how much the arts had an impact on the local economy,” he said. “At the time, there was no public funding at all. That has definitely changed.”

Jenni Petersen-Brant, the city’s arts and cultural affairs coordinator, said participating in the study could show that the arts’ impact on the local economy has continued to grow.

“Since that last study, we have seen new arts organizations be established, and the content and number of events that they offer has continued to grow,” she said. “It would be good for the city to know just how much the arts contribute to the local economy.”

Along with examining nonprofit arts organizations, Iowa Arts Council also will examine the economic impact of for-profit arts businesses, something the city has previously not calculated.

However, the results of the study won’t emerge for some time. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic greatly reducing attendance and participation in arts and cultural events, Americans for the Arts does not intend to begin data collection until late fall 2022.

“This is a recovery and building year for the arts,” Petersen-Brant said. “It’s going to take some time to get back to the point that we were pre-COVID. That’s the point when the study will actually begin.”

She said the results of the study will prove vital to Dubuque as they likely will influence the city’s approach to supporting the local arts through programming and investment.

Gene Tully, president of Voices Studios, a nonprofit arts organization in Dubuque, said he hopes the study leads to added investment from the city.

“The city can spearhead initiatives that encourage the arts in the community,” he said. “It wouldn’t just help the economy. It would improve the cultural vibrancy of the community.”