Arts Fuel Laguna’s Economic Engine

Randy Cohen gives definition to how arts programs and organizations influence Laguna Beach’s economy at a presentation last week. Photo by Danielle Robbins

A report analyzing Laguna Beach’s economy showed that compared with similarly sized communities, arts not only offers abundant food for the soul, but culture also puts meals on the table for the community at large.

Altogether audiences and non-profit arts presenters generated $49.1 million in annual tickets and payroll, a per capita figure that corresponds with better-known culture-capitals such as New York and Chicago, according to the report by Americans for the Arts, a Washington, D.C., based arts advocate. By comparison, the national average among communities with populations under 50,000 is just $9,053 a year, the report says.

The economic injection generates 1,351 full-time jobs, from museum curators to gallerists to hotel housemaids, said Randy Cohen, research and policy vice president for the advocacy group.

In 2005, the direct economic impact of the non-profit arts groups and their audiences tallied $54.9 million and 837 full-time jobs.

Jonathan Burke, president of the Laguna College of Art and Design sums matters up well: The Arts and Economic Prosperity presentation underscored how prosperity lies in the arts regardless of economic turns. I came away understanding how important it is for individuals and institutions to see how the art experience reverberates throughout the community. Nearly everything we that we live with at home or work has been touched by an artist.”

In the most recent analysis, 464,722 locals and Orange County residents reported attending arts related events in Laguna and spending an average of $35 per visit, while another 143,553 non-residents spent $50 per event, excluding ticket admissions.

Photo by Danielle Robbins

Five years ago, the report detected a different audience base: 255,894 residents spent $37 per person attending Laguna arts events, but more non-residents, 319,924, trekked to Laguna for arts and spent $69 per event, also admissions excluded.

The statistics suggests the current economy generates more income from day-tripping locals even though they spend less than out-of-county visitors, whose spending typically includes an overnight stay.

What also sets Laguna apart are its arts volunteers. In 2010, 2,080 people contributed 93,184 hours to arts organizations. In 2005, the ranks were thinner, 1,267 people donated 76,947 hours.

Sixteen non-profit arts organizations plus the city of Laguna Beach took part in the A.F.A. survey conducts every five years.

With 2012 more than half over, representatives of the First Thursday Art Walk, Laguna Beach Live and the Laguna College of Art and Design are continuing to bolster their presence.

Art Walk plans to expand from member galleries to admitting outside businesses as quarterly dues-paying sponsors, said its president Dora Wexell. “Bringing people into town to communicate and mingle with locals is always good for the economy. Even if the galleries don’t make all their money at Art Walks, the generated exposure brings people back to buy,” she said.

Laguna Beach Live has expanded its summer repertoire from Jazz Wednesdays and the yearly Bluegrass Fest at Aliso Creek to Second Thursday concerts at the Laguna Art Museum. “I get quite a few e-mails now from out of town people wanting to include our performances into their travel schedule,” said Cindy Prewitt, LBL’s president.

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