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Study: Arts and Culture Nonprofits ‘Punch Above Their Weight’ for Allegheny County’s Economy

Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council Shares Report Revealing Social Benefits and $1.26 Billion in Direct Impact

The contributions of a thriving arts scene to the economy and vitality of Allegheny County are undeniable and measurable, to a degree, with the help of the Arts & Economic Prosperity 6 report, detailing the economic and social impact of the county’s nonprofit arts and culture organizations.

The research, led every five years by Americans for the Arts, was completed in partnership with the Arts Council, the project’s Allegheny County community research partner, and released to the public on May 1. The AEP6 report covers the fiscal year June 2022 to June 2023, and includes a section on best-practices tools and resources.

During a webinar led by Morgan Kasprowicz, GPAC’s Director of Research and Cultural Policy, she said, “The big headline here is that in fiscal year 2023, Allegheny County arts and culture nonprofit contributed a total of $1.26 billion in direct economic impact to our county.”

The breakdown, she added, is $544 million in spending by organizations and another $711 million in event-related audience expenditures. That comes at a time when the Arts Council estimates that attendance is down 21% overall since the worldwide pandemic shutdown.

A sample of Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council’s digital summary
of the Arts & Economic Prosperity 6 study for Allegheny County.

The overall number represents an increase from five years ago, mostly as a result of increases to average per-person, per-event spending. The $1.26 billion is “super significant when you compare our contribution to that of other similarly sized cities and counties,” Kasprowicz said.

The economic and social impact study allows nonprofit arts and culture organizations and their patrons to see where our region stands in relationship to years past, within limitations, and to other cities during the same time period. The 373 participating regions in United States and Puerto Rico range in population from 4,000 to 4 million, and represent rural, suburban and urban communities. In Allegheny County, 169 nonprofit organizations responded to survey questions, representing at least “every organization that has an annual budget of over $1.5 million.”

The economic impact data was analyzed using IMPLAN software, and customized with region-specific and industry-specific data for different areas and sectors. The findings are available on the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council website, in a 12-page digital summary and a 62-page full report.

 Another key point shows that nonprofit arts and culture groups contribute $267 million in local, state and federal annual tax income. AFTA defines those tax incomes as being from income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, as well as funds from licenses, filing fees, and other similar sources.

The study has “strengths and some limitations,” Kasprowicz said. “The methodology is set for all national partners by Americans for the Arts,” noting that the survey looks only at nonprofits and “not, for example, at the Taylor Swift Eras Tour.” Nor does it include foundation and corporate funding for the arts.

Where our region lags behind is in state funding. Pennsylvania grants to the arts has been static for almost 10 years, Kasprowicz said, noting that Allegheny County is 33rd in the nation in terms of per capita arts funding.

Members of the Arts Council and other city and county arts leaders were in Harrisburg in March, on Arts Advocacy Day, to make that point.

She said State Rep. Arvind Venkat, D-District 30, has offered to circulated a letter, signed by 10 Allegheny County legislators, using AEP6 data to demonstrate the need to increase arts funding for fiscal year .

Back home, a GPAC team also conducted audience surveys at a wide range of events, using 768 results (“once outliers were removed”) to answer “agree or disagree” questions such as “This venue or facility is an important pillar for m within my community,” and “My attendance is my way of ensuring that this activity or venue is preserved for future generations. Answers were divided among attendees to BIPOC and ALAANA organizations (216) and all nonprofit arts and culture organizations (768), and were all in the 80%-90% range.

“What I’m really excited about and I think really adds to the validity of the social impact data is that our audience survey sample is pretty much exactly representative of our Allegheny County population,” Kasprowicz said. “And if you do survey research, you know that that is really difficult to do. Surveys typically skew older, white, more female. And if you look at the demographic breakdown of our audience surveys, we are pretty much spot on with Allegheny County demographics.”

Americans for the Arts added equity benchmarks and goals for all of the partners based on the demographics of their regions. GPAC’s goal to get 20% to 25% audience surveys from BIPOC or ALAANA organizations, as defined by AFTA, was exceeded, to 28%.

Among other takeaways from the report is that Allegheny County is an arts-and-culture destination for nonresidents.

County residents spend an average of $39 per person, per event, “and that’s outside of tickets, outside of things that they purchase within that event,” Kasprowicz noted. “Folks who are coming here from outside of Allegheny County, they’re spending $91 per person, per event, which is huge, and much larger than the national average. … So on the average, all together, audiences are spending an average of $54 per person, per event.”

Here are some of the takeaways from the data represented in the Arts and Economic Prosperity 6 report.

  1. Allegheny County arts and culture “continues to punch above its weight when compared to peer regions.” As an example, the county was grouped in a cohort of cities and counties with comparable populations, such as Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County, “but we have more than twice the amount of economic impact coming from our arts and culture sector,” it was pointed out. That’s $1.2 billion to Cuyahoga’s $530 million, and just $1 million behind the city and county of Philadelphia. Where the Pittsburgh area falls behind is D.C. metro areas, where the median income is significantly higher than in Allegheny County.
  2. Doing more with less: The economic study was conducted as the nation re-emerged from the pandemic shutdown, a time particularly hard on the performing arts. In 2022, the U.S. Bureau of Economic reported that performing arts presenters and companies joined oil drilling exploration and air transportation as the steepest declining areas of the nation’s economy.
  3. Audiences were investing more into the local economy than they were pre-pandemic, Kasprowicz said. In Allegheny County in 2017, the average spending – apart from ticket prices and venue expenditures — was at just under $31. At $54 in 2023, that was well beyond the national average of $38.
  4. Pay equity and community service: In an organizational survey given to organization executives following the pandemic shutdown, 71% reported addressing pay equity, and 42% said that, during the pandemic, they expanded their services beyond arts and culture to address urgent community needs.
  5. Impact on adjacent sectors: Of that $54 average spending, 35% goes to food and drink outside the venue, 17% goes to related retail shopping and so on. The overnight lodging numbers were skewed because they figure in residents, and came to just 20%, but you get the point.
  6. Attracting visitors: Of non-local attendees, 56% reported that the primary purpose of their visit was to specifically attend the performance, event, exhibit, venue or facility where they were surveyed, and 61% indicated that it was the first time that they had ever attended that specific activity or visited that specific venue.
  7. Social impact: The survey concluded that 50% of local attendees to BIPOC and ALAANA organizations and 48.9% of all local attendees said they would have traveled to a different community to attend a similar activity or event if it had not been available locally.

Said Arts Council CEO Patrick Fisher, “The AEP6 report reconfirms what our region has known for decades: The arts significantly contribute both directly and indirectly to Allegheny County’s economy, quality of life, and a sense of pride in our local community,”