Viewpoints: Not just $18 Million

Published: 8/9/2019 1:19:28 PM

Often we talk about the economic benefits of arts and culture. When the Community Conversation was promoted, there was a figure mentioned – $18.6 million. We conducted a study with Americans for the Arts, surveying only one-third of arts and culture nonprofit businesses in our Monadnock Region. That $18.6 million impact was the result of that survey – not extrapolated to include the other two-thirds of nonprofit arts organizations. The data also does not include independent artists and other creative for-profit businesses that are all over our region.

We dug in with what in 2016 was the Department of Resources and Economic Development. The data they collected for us from Industry and Occupation reports for our region showed an additional $55.2 million in economic impact from those for-profit businesses.

Who are these creative businesses? Our region is home to independent creative businesses – small and larger businesses that employ creatives – from filmmakers to writers to musicians to photographers to graphic designers. In fact, 5 percent of all businesses in our region are in the creative sector.

Look at the Greater Peterborough Chamber of Commerce’s website – there are 42 creative sector businesses that are members.

Peterborough alone has 415 people employed in creative occupations. What percentage of the adult population of this small town is that?

The median annual income for this group in our region is about $24,000. These are not all the so-called starving artists, however in Peterborough, with a median income of $72,000, they may be considered just that.

WHY is this data important?

First, let’s get our numbers right and look at the full impact in our region. The economic impact is significant. The creative industries support directly and indirectly over 3,500 jobs across the Monadnock Region. Some creative occupations, like film, audio, architects, and fashion and interior designers are more lucrative. Occupations in craft and fine art are typically on the lower end of the pay scale.

Looking further we see creative businesses, like Terrapin Glassblowing Studio, are engaged in our local chambers of commerce and are passionate about our community’s growth and development. Creative workers, like Soosen Dunholter and Tara Novak and Nora Fiffer, bring beauty – visual, audio, experiential – to our spaces and our events. Arts events like The Thing in the Spring bring in audiences who spend money at restaurants, gas stations, and more. Arts education programs and groups like Monadnock Chorus bring in participants who stop in downtown stores and coffee shops on their way to rehearse or take a class. The Children in the Arts festival celebrates creativity, wonder, and the joy that stories, color, and music bring to our children’s lives.

In fact this area has always been arts-oriented. There is a great institutional history of that work. And some great institutions still exist or have transformed to keep up with the times, like MacDowell Colony, The Peterborough Players, Dublin Arts Colony and Monadnock Art, and The Folkway and Peterborough Folk Music Society. All of these organizations have contributed to the story of the culture in Peterborough, and continue to feed the creative community with connections, resources, space, and even national recognition.

This vibrancy is undeniable. It has more than an economic impact. It brings value to our community.

I have valued Peterborough since the first night I drove an hour to participate in Monadnock Folklore Society’s First Saturday Contra dance when I was a teenager. That dance put the town on the map for me. Over the years, I have discovered more to love about the town – and all of that discovery has been through arts and cultural experiences. I have brought friends, stopped on road trips, and come to town for celebrations because I’ve built a relationship with the town through participating in the arts.

The arts bring a value that is hard to measure, but the culture of this community is unique, and it is fueled by the creative community that exists here. It is not just historical and heritage resources, but it is a living breathing evolving ecosystem that includes everything from traditional New England to international influences to boundary-pushing expressions of humanity.

The loss of the Sharon Arts Gallery and the Sharon Arts Center is a blow to the progress we have made. It is widely understood that arts-based hubs and arts institutions enhance the creative economy by providing a central place to meet, share ideas, and partner on projects.

The Monadnock Art X Tech Makerspace is an excellent example of how a centralized space can build community, and expand creative workers ideas and skills. This contributes to both our local economy – as new workers become employable, new products are developed, and new jobs are created.

Grassroots efforts, online sales, and pop up markets can only do so much. There is vibrancy, there is a thriving entrepreneurial creative community, and there are hundreds of additional hobbyists and those making and participating in the arts for the love of having an expressive and social outlet.

So, how will this community support and value this large percentage of the population? Will the town make policies to enable more festivals and public art and affordable studio and living space for creative workers? Will local businesses invest more funding into creative programs of our local institutions? Will nonprofit board members dedicate equitable compensation to the staff people who serve their missions and raise the funds to cover that? Will community groups support artists and arts groups to participate in their activities? Will investors step in to support a plan for the former Sharon Arts hubs soon to be vacated?

What steps can we take individually and collectively to value our local culture, to leverage it to make our community the best it can be, and to create equity so that everyone can benefit from it?

Jessica Gelter is executive director of Arts Alive!

Gelter will be part of the Ledger-Transcript’s Community Conversation about the value of arts in the region – Tuesday at 7 p.m., Aug. 13 in Bass Hall of the Monadnock Center for History and Culture in Peterborough – along with state representative Jeanne Dietsch, director of the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts Virginia Lupi, MacDowell Colony Director David Macy and Glass Museum co-founder Mary Goldthwaite-Gagne.


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