By Gary Schuster, Esq.

A recently released study entitled Arts & Economic Prosperity III surveyed the economic impact of 6,080 local nonprofit arts organizations in 156 communities and regions throughout the United States, including Orange County. Believe it or not, 53 arts organizations in Orange County were eligible for the study, of which 16 participated. The local data revealed that in 2005, these 16 organizations generated just over $16 million in economic activity. This included about $9 million in spending by arts organizations and about $7 million in event-related spending by audiences, excluding the cost of admission.
This activity further resulted in

  • 341 full-time equivalent jobs
  • $5.6 million in resident household income
  • $899,000 in local government revenues
  • $445,000 in state government revenues

These sums for Orange County are probably larger than anyone would have guessed. The numbers would have been higher still had all 53 eligible nonprofits reported their data. Also, the numbers reflect only nonprofit arts activity. Orange County is also home to many high quality and even world-class for-profit arts businesses. These include Big Apple Circus, 8 Hats High Animation and Production, G. Schirmer Music, Keene Publishing, Konica Minolta, Lycian Stage Lighting, Lycian Centre, Polich Tallix Foundry, Scenic Technologies and Thornwillow Press. Individual professionals in the arts include Jack Aranson and Claudia Cummings, Garin Baker, Shawn Dell Joyce, Andrew Lattimore, Dan Mack, Linda Holmes Richichi, Stuart Sachs, Jonathan Talbot, Polka King Jimmy Sturr, Nick Zungoli and all the other artists and craftspeople in Sugar Loaf. And let us not forget Orange County Choppers, whose TV show put us on the international map. Unfortunately, no one knows how much these for-profit arts businesses would add to the statistics on employment, spending, income and government revenue. Adding both the nonreporting nonprofits and all the for-profits, we might reasonably triple the figure from the study. That would make the arts a $48 million business in Orange County. Who would have guessed?

Some people had their suspicions. In 2003, the Cultural Committee of the Orange County Citizens Foundation commissioned an Arts and Cultural Needs Assessment, which was released in 2004. One of the recommendations was to form a new County arts council, since the last council disappeared some 10 years ago. The new council was formed this past February and for now is quietly organizing, applying for 501(c)(3) tax exemption, setting priorities and forming committees. (Full disclosure: I am an Arts Council board member and its Secretary.) For 2007, the County generously contributed $75,000, but the Arts Council is also planning substantial fundraising and development efforts. The Arts Council’s broad mission is to strengthen the arts in Orange County by providing educational, promotional and information services and coordinating and facilitating relationships among the arts, schools, businesses, government and the public. The Arts Council does have one program up and running, “Arts for Vets”, which gives Orange County veterans the opportunity to participate in a variety arts experiences designed especially for them and at no cost to them.

One of the Arts Council’s goals is to determine more precisely the extent of arts activity in the County and the statistics on arts-related employment, spending, income and taxes. Once the arts are recognized as a valuable business, and not just a pleasant diversion, county and local governments, chambers of commerce, local arts societies, arts nonprofits and businesses, individual artists, and ordinary businesses and citizens can all be more businesslike in organizing, supporting, promoting and growing that business. Orange County can and should become a thriving center of creativity that not only grows jobs but also attracts arts tourists.

Creativity encompasses more than just the fine arts. The “creative industries” include advertising and public relations, architecture, fashion, journalism, film, video, TV, toy and game development, handicrafts, antique restoration, culinary arts, music composing and recording, the performing arts, publishing, software and website development and all kinds of engineering and design. These industries require employees who are skilled and educated, and who consequently earn relatively high salaries. These employees will spend most of their salaries locally and pay local taxes. Their presence will result in more and higher quality housing, schools, restaurants, cafes, bookstores, theaters, concert halls, parks and museums. Studies show that in order to attract and retain top talent, CEO’s are increasingly locating their businesses in places where their employees have easy access to the arts and culture. The cycle becomes self-reinforcing, with arts attracting business, which supports more arts, which makes a place that people want to live and work in.

Creative jobs are not only high paying but durable. Creativity cannot be automated, so no robots can be deployed to put people out of work. Creativity is also less susceptible to being outsourced to the other side of the world. Successful and popular creativity is about taste, judgment, psychology and culture. Is it improbable that someone living in India or Malaysia could devise a successful ad campaign or niche magazine for us here in America. Finally, creative jobs generally use relatively little real estate, generate relatively little pollution, and use relatively few natural resources. With more creative industry, more of Orange County’s open space and natural resources could be preserved or even enhanced, while growing, not sacrificing its economy.

As the recent study shows, Orange County already has a surprising amount of creative industry. I hope the efforts of the new Arts Council will lead to broader recognition that the creative industries are real business which deserve to be welcomed and promoted for the benefit of the entire County. Send an email to the Arts Council at [email protected] if you work in a creative industry or want to help advocate for a more creative Orange County.

Gary M. Schuster is an attorney with Jacobowitz & Gubits, LLP in Walden.