Here in Westchester (NY), when we talk about the arts and the economy, we have a great story to tell. Working with Americans for the Arts, we have done successive reports every five years since 1995, building our economic impact to $156 million, with some 4,800 jobs.
It is a daunting task reaching out to 150 affiliates, begging data from overworked colleagues, doing live interviews with arts-goers and culling the information; but we do it because it is the single most important tool in our advocacy arsenal.
As an internal document, the report becomes our barometer; we know those are the numbers we have to beat in the next report. As an external document, it gets the attention of thought leaders in our community and perks up the ears of our legislators. It has also built broad community support. In a quick (and not so dirty) community SWOT analysis last year, 95 percent responded that the arts are important to Westchester’s economy.
Yet, as most arts councils, we struggle with the “conversation”—that is, how we talk about the value of the arts in tandem with this “dollars and cents” version of our net worth.
To help us shape the “net value” conversation, we developed a “Why Do the Arts Matter?” series of ads, featuring prominent business leaders saying things like:
“Art has the power to bring people together—especially at a time when every effort is being made to divide people in the world”
“The arts empower communities”
“There is no flourishing business community without a thriving arts environment”
“The arts contribute to innovation. Our world depends on students who can imagine the future.”
These and other ads are available online and have been downloaded and used by all of our affiliate organizations in their own publications, as well as some of our local newspapers.
They are available, too, for any Americans for the Arts members (alongside their pARTnership Movement ads) who may want to replace our business leaders with their own and just use our format.