The economic impact act plays in Portland

If you believe these studies, and some of us do, the arts contribute almost as much to the Portland economy as they do in much-bigger Seattle.
If you believe these studies, and some of us do, the arts contribute almost as much to the Portland economy as they do in much-bigger Seattle.

Elsewhere on you'll get some chilly Elliott Bay water thrown on the whole notion of economic-impact studies, in particular one released this week about how the arts contribute to local economies. But here in Portland, some of us sheepishly confess that we like these studies. They make it harder for politicians to cut arts funding. And then there's an admittedly prurient interest in knowing anything about other people's finances. The study this week by Americans for the Arts found that the arts in metro Seattle generate $330 million of economic activity a year. Well, if that's a bunch of hooey, Portland's hooey is every bit as impressive, maybe more so considering it's a smaller place: $318 million a year changes hands in Multnomah, Clackamas, and Washington counties courtesy of paintings, performances, and other pastimes. And that doesn't include tickets, money spent on dress and painful shoes, bohemian-black separates, or parking citations. Here's how the Portland metro area penciled out:

  • $167 million comes in the form of employee wages paid out to more than 10,000 arts-related jobs, along with services and supplies purchased for various events.
  • $151 million flows in for hotel, restaurant, parking, and other businesses used by patrons.
The news was trumpeted this week in Portland by the Regional Arts and Culture Council and Northwest Business for Culture and the Arts, with a couple of local officials crowding into the limelight for a chance to be associated with some good financial news. Business leaders on hand at a breakfast, lunch, and press conference especially liked the stat that says taxes levied on wages and such, paid by 111 non-profits, indicate a 3-to-1 return on investments made in the arts by local government. Top that, Wall Street. An impressive 6.2 million people attended local arts and culture events during 2006 in metro Portland; a quarter of those folks came from outside. One puzzle (here's the mildly prurient part): Locals spend an average of $19.62 per event attended – not including admission costs. Inquiring people want to know: Where do you park that's so cheap? And are you sneaking bites of trail mix during the overture instead of going out to dinner? Visitors spring for better snacks, it seems. They spent $38.53 on event-related stuff. Here's more of the Arts & Economic Prosperity III report for the Portland metro area and info on past studies. National data on 156 communities are here (2.2 MB PDF).   

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