Blog: Tamara Real

Tamara Real has both a passion for and understanding of the arts. As the Executive Director of the Arts Alliance, her non-profit organization has made it mission critical to develop, nurture and sustain Washtenaw County's artistic community. Tamara will be writing about the local challenges and responsibilties to maintaining creative inspiration and expression.

Post 2: The Business Of Art

So, what do we know about arts and culture in Washtenaw County? We know that nonprofit arts and culture is a $165 million industry in the county. The sector employs about 2,600 people – roughly the same number of people who were employed by Pfizer when it was going full tilt. Those jobs translate into almost $57 million in household income. 

Now, let’s put a human face on those numbers. Wild Swan Theater is an Ann Arbor-based theater company that creates family-oriented productions that are totally and imaginatively accessible to folks with hearing and visual disabilities. Internationally known, Wild Swan provides employment annually to about 50 artists, such as actors, musicians, composers, playwrights, or set designers. In most cases, a company that’s creating jobs for 50 or so people would be considered a pretty important part of our community and yet, when it comes to arts and culture, we somehow seem to overlook the value of this contribution.

Arts organizations are just like any other small business: they pay rent, purchase supplies, invest in their facilities, and have to meet payroll. Doing so, nonprofit cultural organizations inject $33.4 million into the economy.

Again, let’s see who’s doing this. To use a striking example, the University of Michigan Museum of Art is in the midst of $35+ million expansion project that will totally revitalize the institution. That project is pumping millions of dollars directly into the local economy, paying construction workers, architects, and folks who provide concrete, glass, and more. These are ordinary folks just like you and me who are deriving economic benefit from the presence of arts and culture in the community.

Arts and cultural activities act as a powerful magnet, drawing millions of attendees who spend thousands of dollars in our community above and beyond the actual cost of their tickets. These expenditures can include eating in restaurants, shopping, transportation costs, child care, and overnight accommodations. In total, nonprofit arts audiences in Washtenaw County generated $49.5 million in expenditures related to their cultural experiences. 

One of the most dynamic examples of the tourism appeal of the arts locally is the University Musical Society-sponsored residency of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) in 2006. When the RSC performed its cycle of Shakespearian plays, nearly 27,000 seats were filled for 21 regular performances, with audience members hailing from at least 39 states and four countries.  In addition, media coverage extended awareness of our community as RSC articles appeared in the Chicago Tribune, NWA World Traveler, and Toronto’s National Post, among other outlets. 

I hope this gives you a little more understanding about the role arts and culture play here. Next time, I’ll tell you a little about how arts and culture can help our kids lead better lives in the 21st century.