Expressions of amazement always greet a statistic that is well used by New Jersey’s non-profit arts community. The arts in New Jersey generate over $1.5 billion in economic activity each year. Really?
It’s not so hard to believe when you consider that figure consists of expenses by non-profit arts institutions through payroll and other related human service costs like employer paid taxes and fringe benefits (don’t forget healthcare!), and vendors including all the usual suspects—printers, office supplies, rent, insurance, IT, travel, and utilities, among others. The balance of that $1.5 billion is the indirect and related expenditures of patrons who attend cultural events. This includes restaurants, hotels, retail establishments and parking (The Arts Mean Business, ArtPride NJ economic activity study, 2009). Babysitter, anyone?
NJ BIZ published a couple of articles over the last week that shine a light on how arts institutions make a real difference in urban areas and other communities throughout New Jersey. In Newark, the value of NJPAC is indisputable, and has provided a launching pad for the reinvention of our largest city. While NJPAC may be Newark’s most easily visible cultural institution, a walk just a few short blocks away on Halsey and Broad Streets offers a glimpse into a growing and truly exciting haven for visual artists with gallery spaces like Aljira, Gallery Aferro and Solo(s) Project House where visual art and other media merge in pop –up installations like the Gateway Project in a multi-use office space that connects to Penn Station. If Manhattan is outsourcing visual artists because it’s running out of affordable live/work space, welcome to Newark where art lives and breathes!
Elsewhere in New Jersey the impact of a lively arts scene on business is equally felt in communities like Red Bank, Rahway, Millville, Hammonton, Atlantic City, Morristown, and Collingswood. Planners and economic development directors are discovering how the creation of cultural districts positively affect downtown life and spur increased foot traffic attracting not only shoppers and hungry diners, but real estate development. It’s no secret that a lively downtown filled with interesting and creative spaces offers a feeling of safety and community, and with an abundance of vacant storefronts that are sorry remnants of the recent recession, the arts offer a turning point for small towns seeking to recreate a sense of place.
Downtown NJ cites research that shows that a healthy and vibrant downtown boosts the economic health and quality of life in a community. Specifically, it creates jobs, incubates small businesses, reduces sprawl, protects property values, and increases the community’s options for goods and services. A healthy downtown is a symbol of community pride and history. The arts play a prominent role in meeting all of these goals.
So here’s a secret. Keep an eye open for the arts as focal points for redevelopment in Burlington City and Somerville, and Boonton, and more! And feel free to post in the comments section any exciting arts activity that is making a difference in your town.
Ann Marie Miller is the Executive Director of ArtPride, the premier arts advocacy organization in New Jersey, and a regular contributor to the Dodge blog.