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Investing in the arts

By Staff | Dec 20, 2017

Lydia Antunes Black, CEO and executive director of Alliance of the Arts. ASHLEY GOODMAN

The arts have a lot to offer to Lee County. Last Wednesday, during a meeting at the Blue Coyote Business & Social Club in Fort Myers, Lydia Antunes Black, CEO and executive director at Lee County Alliance for the Arts, discussed how non-profit cultural organizations make an economic impact in the area.

According to a study that was done by Americans for the Arts in 2015, the nonprofit arts industry brings in a whopping $140.1 million annually in Lee County. The arts also provides nearly 4,000 full-time jobs. The revenue that the arts have brought in over the last seven years has grown exponentially as well. In 2010, the arts generated $68.3 million.

“We are looking at significant growth in the arts culture,” Antunes Black said. “We can tell that because of the attendance and the economy. We saw people coming back to the theater, we saw people coming back to the organization and taking classes and things of that nature.”

She said that non-profits are the third largest industry in the United States.

“Non-profits are an industry that need to be recognized,” Antunes Black said.

Nationally, the nonprofit arts industry has garnered $166.3 billion according to the study that was done in 2015.

At art-related events in Lee County, beyond admission, the study also found that the typical attendee spends $31.47 per person, per event. One third of the attendees traveled to the event from outside the county. Those who traveled from out of town spent an average of $47.57 after event costs.

A strong arts community is not only good for the businesses themselves, but the nonprofit arts industry also helps other local businesses flourish.

“The nonprofit arts industry is really growing in Southwest Florida,” Antunes Black said. “We see that $18.8 million has stayed in (the) state’s local government revenue and that’s created a lot from the spending that’s happened around our organizations. This money isn’t coming to us, it’s money that’s being spent into the community and it’s going back into the community as a whole. In the city of Fort Myers, every $1 that is invested in the arts is a $12 return to the city.”

Some of the nonprofits who participated in the study were BIG ARTS, the Edison and Ford Winter Estates, WGCU and the Florida Repertory Theatre.

During Antune Black’s research, she found that 35 nonprofits in Lee County have budgets that are over half a million.

“What we found here is that arts and culture for communities that are like ours are relatively underfunded,” she said. “You can invest in the arts and the social things we do and also see a return of what’s happening in the broader community.”

Despite being underfunded, the American for the Arts study found that the local community has a high regard for the arts.

“Eighty-two percent of Americans said that arts and culture are important,” Antunes Black said. “Our arts community needs to do a better job of getting out there and talking about these qualities and this economic impact as well as the social impact that we have in our community.”