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'Mythbuster' report says the arts mean business to WNY

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Americans for the Arts
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The economic power of Western New York's arts community is detailed in a new study from Americans for the Arts, which estimates a $352 million regional impact.

"Understanding and acknowledging the incredible economic impact of the nonprofit arts and culture, we must always remember their fundamental value," Americans for the Arts President and CEO Robert Lynch wrote in the opening of "Arts and Economic Prosperity 5."

"They foster beauty, creativity, originality and vitality. The arts inspire us, sooth us, provoke us, involve us and connect us. But they also create jobs and contribute to the economy."

Based on questionnaires returned by 126 local arts organizations in five Western New York counties, those groups spend $156 million a year, have more than 10,000 employees, and see nearly $200 million spent by audience members. The report also found a significant number of patrons come from outside Western New York.

Randy Cohen, Vice President for Policy and Research at the national arts non-profit, said there are two sides to the arts: creation and business.

"They inspire us and engage us. They create the communities we want to live in," Cohen said. "But the fact is they are businesses as well and what this study shows is they are a $352 million industry here in the region that supports 10,160 jobs. The arts provide both cultural benefits and economic benefits and that's a mythbuster for a lot of people."

Randall Kramer, Artistic and Executive Director of MusicalFare Theatre and Board Chairman of Arts Services Initiative, said there has to be a real push to understand these are businesses.

"It's something we have to continually work on because we are CEOs of small organizations but, when I say small, I mean, mine at MusicalFare is $1.5 million and the Science Museum is bigger than that and the BPO is much bigger than that," Kramer said. "So there's a lot going on here. We really are CEOs of small and mid-size businesses."

ASI Executive Director Tod Kniazuk said the report shows the arts should be involved in economic development planning.

"One of the reasons to do this study is to really put our money where our mouth is, so to speak," said Kniazuk. "We've really talked in the six years that ASI has been around about the value of the arts, about the power of the arts, not just worthy of public investment, but worthy of a place at the table. So that the arts are an industry and belong as part of the economic development conversation, the tourism conversation and, yes, are worthy of public funding."

The report says arts activities put more than $40 million into state and local treasuries. Every elected official in Erie, Niagara, Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany Counties will be receiving a copy of the report.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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