The Value of the Nonprofit Arts and Culture Field in Illinois

A Social Return on Investment Analysis

Using a social return on investment framework, this report assesses the impacts of the $1.9 billion in public and private investment in over 1,400 Illinois not-for-profit organizations working in the arts and culture. The headline finding is that “every dollar invested into the Illinois nonprofit arts and culture field generates an estimated $27 in socio-economic value”.

The report notes that, “for each positive change that arts and culture programs create for youth and their families and for society, value is created. Some of the value that is created is quite easily put into monetary terms, such as how much more money a person will earn annually with a high school diploma than without one. For other outcomes, such as people being more civically engaged, the value is less tangible because it does not have an inherent market value.” The report’s findings are based on a range of secondary data sources, a survey of arts and culture organizations, and program evaluations. These sources provided the researchers with proxies for the value of difficult-to-measure individual and societal changes.

The vast majority of the social return “accrues to individuals participating in nonprofit arts and culture programs, events, and activities”, through increased economic security and workforce inclusion as well as improved well-being, social cohesion, and tolerance. Of the $27 in socio-economic value for every dollar invested, $23 was experienced by individuals.

The other $4 in socio-economic value is an estimate of the societal impact of arts and culture programs through workforce engagement and economic development.

The report argues that its findings are partial, in that research is lacking in some areas, such as the “impact on how people think”.

Two similar studies from Australia examined the social returns of a community arts project in Western Australia that tries to connect Aboriginal youth with their language and culture and a program offering film workshops for youth.

Summary: 

Using a social return on investment framework, this report assesses the impacts of the $1.9 billion in public and private investment in over 1,400 Illinois not-for-profit organizations working in the arts and culture. The headline finding is that “every dollar invested into the Illinois nonprofit arts and culture field generates an estimated $27 in socio-economic value”. Two similar studies from Australia examined the social returns of a community arts project in Western Australia that tries to connect Aboriginal youth with their language and culture and a program offering film workshops for youth.