"This study is a mythbuster," Robert Lynch, president and chief executive of Americans for the Arts, said in a statement. "Most Americans understand that the arts improve our quality of life. This study demonstrates that the arts are an industry that stimulates the economy in cities and towns across the country.
"A vibrant arts and culture industry helps local business thrive."It's the archetypal study: It re-enforces a pre-determined mission (the arts matter!), touts the intangibles (quality of life!), takes credit for non-arts related economic activity (what would you do without us?), and elevates the arts to the status aerospace (we're an industry!). Thank goodness someone as objective as Americans for the Arts settled those questions. Doesn't their name just scream lack of bias? As Campbell wrote this story, it must have seemed oddly familiar, because just two and a half years ago he wrote a very similar one, headlined, "Study shows the arts are a boon to the local economy." That study was by ArtsFund, which produces such studies every couple of years. According to their 2004 study, the economic impact of the arts in King and Pierce counties was "$1 billion in direct and indirect business activity." Note the indirect claim. It allows the featured number to be inflated because they claim credit for activity up and down the economic food chain. That study was preceded, naturally, by another in 1999 and, before that, one in 1993 (funded by, yes, Paul Allen). Melinda Bargreen of The Seattle Times wrote about both in a story headlined, "Study reveals 1990s arts boom." The study showed "the arts in King County alone spawning $338.2 million annually in business sales," up 62 percent from the previous study. In recent memory, have the arts ever not boomed? Have they ever not been an economic dynamo? Peter Donnelly, then head of the Corporate Council for the Arts, which sponsored the 1990s studies, was delighted because (agenda revealed) the study would "be extremely helpful in establishing credibility in making the case for arts giving." Or, rather, the credibility of arts "taking." He made no bones that the purpose of the report was to get more money for the arts. But Donnelly was satisfied with neither the bottom line nor the intangibles reported in the study. "If anything," he said with true showbiz hype, "[the study] understates the impact of the arts." For you see, the arts are so big, so important, their true import cannot be contained in a single study! Which is why, I guess, they need to do study after study, and why the newspapers need to write about them year after year, much like Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update" continually reporting that Francisco Franco is still dead. We need constant reassurance that the arts in Seattle are still booming! Someday, I hope Paul Allen will fund a study on the economic impact of the study industry. I have a feeling the benefits are both infinite and intangible.
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