Why Arts Organizations In Atlanta Must Engage Their Local Representatives

Lara Smith

What is the impact of the arts in our community? The intangible, social benefits of the arts are primarily what we think of when we consider the benefits of the arts. In this way, the arts serve to lift us up, record our histories and spark social change.

But how do you quantify these benefits? When political officials ask arts leaders to prove their impact, it’s vital that we can be data-driven to show how vital we are to the community. The arts have an economic impact on a community, which provides a tangible and data-driven way of showing how crucial the arts are to a thriving city. Arts organizations should continue to document the intangible, social benefits of their work but also measure the economic impact they have.

As managing director for Dad’s Garage, an Atlanta theater specializing in improv and scripted comedy, I understand how our organization has both a social and economic impact on our community. The intangible social benefits include: providing an affordable and fun night out that can lift spirits, fostering a community of artists dedicated to making work in Atlanta and using our art form to create positive social change. We document these benefits by doing interviews (one patron said the joy and laughter of attending shows at Dad’s Garage helped him get through chemotherapy), charting our community involvement and measuring the number of audiences we reach. Beyond these intangible benefits, we recognize that our organization provides many quantifiable benefits to our community. We contribute to the local economy, we employ industry professionals and artists, and we help drive sales at local service industry businesses.

The advocacy organization Americans for the Arts recently published the ”Arts and Economic Prosperity V report (AEP-V), and partnered with Atlanta Regional Commission to measure fiscal impact of the arts in metro Atlanta. This study found that, “The nonprofit arts and culture sector is a $719.8 million industry in Metro Atlanta — one that supports 23,514 full-time equivalent jobs and generates $64.5 million in local and state government revenue.” As a medium-sized arts organization with a budget of around $1.5 million that employs 45 FTE individuals, Dad’s Garage contributes to this vital sector of our local economy.

Arts organizations, like any business, contribute to their economy through spending locally.

Arts organizations, like any business, contribute to their economy through spending locally. My organization, like most theaters, builds several sets a year for our plays. When we spend $100 on a drum of paint, part of that $100 goes to pay the sales clerk who ran the transaction. That sales clerk spends that money on groceries at her neighborhood store. The grocery store takes that money and pays their employees, who then pay rent. All along the way, taxes are being taken out to fund local infrastructure and government. According to AEP-V, “Spending by nonprofit arts and cultural organizations totaled $434.8 million in Metro Atlanta during fiscal year 2015.” This money moves through our local economy and supports a variety of businesses and government initiatives.

When people come to see a show at Dad’s Garage, they often make a night of it. They have pre-show dinner down the street at one of our local restaurants like Bell Street Burritos or Ammazza Pizzeria, and after they leave the theater they go to a neighborhood bar such as Sister Louisa’s for a drink. In this way, the economic impact of seeing a live theater show is amplified and pumps more money into our local economy. “Event-related spending by these attendees totaled $285 million in Metro Atlanta during fiscal year 2015, excluding the cost of event admission,” reports AEP-V.

People attending a comedy show at Dad's Garage in Atlanta Georgia.

As Dad's Garage moves into the future, we plan on measuring the economic impact of our organization. For us, this will mean using formulas provided by AEP-V to calculate our economic impact and showing how much we spend locally on goods and services. We will measure these economic metrics as we continue to document the intangible social benefits of our organization. We hope other arts organizations will use the AEP-V to measure their economic impact and share this information with their elected officials. By arming our representatives with this data, they can better advocate for the arts in their community.

Atlanta is at a crucial turning point as a city – we are electing not only a new mayor, but also many new city council members. We have been leveraging the data provided through AEP-V to arm candidates with information now before they become elected. When more arts organizations engage their local representatives with this vital data, the more we can grow and prosper as artists and as a community.

  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.