The arts community in Mesa generates nearly $25.2 million in economic activity a year, according to a study measuring the power of cultural amenities across the nation.
The arts produced 850 jobs and a payroll of about $21 million in 2010, according to a new report from the nonprofit Americans for the Arts.
The economic impact is about the same as that organization’s study from 2005. An increase hadn’t been expected given the impact of the Great Recession and a still lackluster economy, said Robert Schultz, assistant director of the Mesa Arts Center.
“To be virtually flat would be a good sign,” Schultz said.
The Americans for the Arts study from 2005 reported a nearly $45.6 million impact, but Schultz said that report mistakenly included about $20.5 million in capital costs for construction of the arts center.
The study proves a direct rate of return when a community invests in the arts, said Councilman Dennis Kavanaugh, a former chairman of the Arizona Commission on the Arts.
But Kavanaugh and Schultz said the public probably doesn’t realize the economic impact of arts and culture. Kavanaugh recalled how critics of the arts center predicted it would be a white elephant when the roughly $100 million project debuted in 2005.
The MAC has since drawn many patrons to downtown and gained international attention by hosting this election cycle’s final Republican presidential primary debate in February.
“I think the perceptions have changed,” Kavanaugh said. “Those people who persist in the old views probably haven’t been in the city for a long time, or have never been downtown.”
The economic impact study looked only at nonprofit arts organizations, including the city-owned arts center, the Arizona Museum for Youth, Southwest Shakespeare Company and the Arizona Museum of Natural History. Of 17 eligible groups, only 10 participated in the survey. Kavanaugh said the study would have found a larger impact if the rest of the groups had shared their information about attendance, employment and other data. The study also didn’t measure the impact of for-profit arts entities like movie production or art galleries. The study evaluated 182 regions across the U.S.
Kavanaugh said the emerging downtown arts district was a large factor in Mesa luring four universities to open branch campuses downtown by late 2013.
City officials gave college officials tours of the arts center and found the universities are interested in forging relationships with various arts organizations, Shultz said.
Mesa built the arts center in part to reinvigorate downtown, with mixed results. While some restaurants and shops have had arts center patrons visit them, Mesa has been unable to attract restaurants or arts-related businesses in a city-owned building adjacent to the arts center.
The building, at 51 and 55 E. Main St., is temporarily housing offices for Benedictine University and a branch of the Mesa Historical Museum.
Kavanaugh said the single-story building should become a prime spot when Metro light rail begins service downtown in 2015. A station will open directly in front of that building and the arts center.
“There will be increasing opportunities for that site to be replaced by a multi-story building that includes, hopefully, restaurants, hospitality uses and possibly other arts related uses,” he said.
Some key findings from the study:
• Arts and cultural organizations spent $14.7 million, while audiences spent $10.5 million.
• Tax revenue for local government was $1.1 million, and about $1.4 million for state government.
• Attendance totaled 612,736 patrons.
• Patrons spent an average $17.14 per event, excluding the cost of admission.
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