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Vital Signs: Economic impact of arts and culture on the rise; number of artists declines

Despite a slight decrease in the number of artists employed in Greater Victoria, the economic impact of arts and culture is rising, according to new reports released by the Victoria Foundation.
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Brock Smith: $177.3 million a conservative estimate.

Despite a slight decrease in the number of artists employed in Greater Victoria, the economic impact of arts and culture is rising, according to new reports released by the Victoria Foundation.

There were 1,500 working artists in Greater Victoria in 2011, a slight drop from 1,585 in 2006. At the same time, the arts and culture sector generated $177.3 million in economic activity in 2012 — a rise from $170 million in 2010.

The figures were released today as part of Victoria’s Vital Signs: Greater Victoria’s 2013 Annual Check-up. (The Victoria Foundation and the Capital Regional District Arts Committee announced the economic activity report findings Monday.)

Brock Smith, a Peter B. Gustavson School of Business professor who prepared the economic activity report, attributed the growth to a rebounding economy and increased participation in the study.

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“More people responded this time, so we had better data to start with,” Smith said. “And last time we did it, we were in the middle of an economic recession, so it probably reflects a little bit of that.”

While Smith’s study used different employment measures from those released in Vital Signs, it also showed a decrease — from 5,400 person-years of employment in 2010 to 4,347 person-years in 2012. He attributed the drop to a different mix of respondents — more single-proprietor arts businesses and fewer mid-sized arts organizations participated in the 2012 study.

He called $177.3 million a conservative estimate.

Within that figure, $140 million was generated locally, up from $126 million in 2010. And $68 million was attributable to pre- and post-event spending of performing-arts patrons, while the figure supported $17 million in property-tax revenue.

Victoria Foundation CEO Sandra Richardson said the economic growth shows that the arts and culture sector is more than “just frills. Arts and culture make a community vibrant and enriching place to live. This study shows that by attending, participating in and supporting the arts, we are contributing to both the region’s social and economic well-being.”

Professional Arts Alliance of Greater Victoria president Ivan Habel said economic growth is just one community contribution of the arts and culture sector.

“While the study focuses on economics, social benefits can flow through that, in terms of a net positive effect in communities. Strong communities and strong economic communities mean there’s social strength as well,” Habel said.

The 1,500 artists counted in Vital Signs accounted for 0.84 per cent of total employment. That was higher than the comparable provincial rate of 0.74 per cent and the national rate of 0.53 per cent.

“Artists gravitate to urban centres,” Habel said. “When you look at urban centres in B.C., certainly many people will find it expensive, but it’s certainly more affordable than other communities in large urban areas.”

While artists are defined as dancers, musicians, actors, directors, producers, visual artists, comedians and people in related occupations, employment in the cultural industries is much larger.

In 2012, there were 3,900 cultural workers employed locally, including those working in broadcasting, Internet publishing and heritage, according to Vital Signs. That number rose from 3,700 in 2000, following a dip to 2,800 in 2010.

Funding for arts and culture organizations also rose. Among the 32 arts organizations funded by the CRD’s arts development operating grants, a total $5,610,394 of public sector funding was provided by the CRD, provincial, federal and other municipal sources. That is about $200,000 more than in 2010-11.

David Screech, chairman of the CRD arts committee, said economic growth is only one reason to invest in the arts.

“We invest in arts organizations for many reasons, including the range of activities they provide to citizens and visitors, the contributions they make to our quality of life within our communities and, specific to this report, the economic benefit the arts bring to our communities.”

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