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The Artistic Dividend: The Arts’ Hidden Contributions to Regional Development

October 17, 200517 October 2005

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In economic impact analysis, the contribution of individual artists is rarely, if ever, taken into account. Exploratory research by Ann Markusen and David King aims to change this practice by articulating how artists’ contributions to regional economies constitute an “artistic dividend”. This dividend – increased economic vitality thanks to artistic activity in a region – is conceptualized as a return on current artistic activity and a “product of long-term commitments by philanthropists, patrons and the public sector to regional arts organizations, arts education and individual artists”.

The authors give three main reasons for the economic advantages conferred by a vibrant artistic scene: 1) The presence of artists increases other artists’ creativity and “enhances the design, production and marketing of products and services in other sectors”; 2) Artistic activity enhances the ability of employers to “recruit top-rate employees”; and 3) Artistic activity directly generates new income through exports of artistic works outside the region.

The report identifies the many ways that the “artistic dividend” has been underestimated and how it is vital for regions to attract artists through desirable amenities, artistic development and regional support. Partnerships between the private sector, philanthropists, arts venues and arts education play an integral role in the anchoring of an arts community in a region and in creating an “arts-savvy public”.

By analyzing how artists in various occupational categories cluster by region, the study attempts to explain how artists make decisions about how and where to work. Important factors in this decision-making process include artists’ associations and arts education opportunities. Both of these factors contribute to artists’ creativity and productivity and help to attract younger artists to a region.

While many governments continue to decrease their arts budgets, this is another valuable tool in advocacy work to convince decision makers in government and business that the arts constitute more than a “frill” element in a regional economy. More research into the size of the “artistic dividend” in various communities would certainly provide better evidence in this regard.

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