“Across America, cities that once struggled economically are reinventing and rebuilding themselves by investing in art and culture. Both are proven catalysts for growth and economic prosperity. By creating cultural hubs, non-profit art businesses help cities define themselves, draw tourists, and attract investment.”
Louise M. Slaughter, U.S. House of Representatives, Co-Chair – Congressional Arts Caucus
Non-profit arts and culture industries generate $166.2 billion in national economic activity annually, states “Arts and Economic Prosperity III: The Economic Impact of Non-Profit Arts and Culture Organizations and Their Audiences,” a study conducted by the Americans for the Arts.
The Travel Industry Association of America reports that 81 percent of American adult travelers include an arts, heritage or historic activity in their trips of 50 miles or more annually. Of these, 35.3 million say their destination of choice was influenced by a specific cultural event.
The numbers stack up. Cultural tourists are out there and they are younger, wealthier, more educated and more technologically savvy than your average traveler. They spend more and stay longer. They are more likely to pay for lodging, eat out and buy souvenirs. Even a “general” tourist will extend her visit to attend a cultural event.
So how do Gunnison and Crested Butte capture these billions of dollars being spent by these millions of cultural tourist nationwide?
The Arts Alliance of the East River Valley is answering that question.
Originally formed in 2002, the Arts Alliance is now a dynamic coalition of 13 arts-oriented organizations. They are the Center for the Arts, Crested Butte Mountain Theatre, Crested Butte Film Festival, Crested Butte Music Festival, Artists of the West Elks, Mt. Crested Butte Performing Arts Center, Gunnison Arts Center, Western State College, the Studio Art School, Crested Butte Dance Collective, Crested Butte School of Dance, Crested Butte Arts Festival, and the Trailhead Children’s Discovery Museum.
These organizations believe that the arts enrich and enhance both the quality of life and the economic value of the region, and they aim to tell the world about it. Their driving force is collaboration, fostering partnerships with each other for the good of the whole so that each individual organization may flourish. Improving public relations, creating brand awareness, increasing visibility, advocating for the arts in the economic and political spectrums, and educating the community are just some of the tools they’ve activated to advance and promote the arts of the area.
Their vision? To make the entire region, from Gothic to Gunnison, a nationally recognized destination for the arts. And as a cohesive and unified front, they are making some serious waves.
The arts mean business
The Arts and Economic Prosperity III study demonstrates that the non-profit arts and culture industry is an economic driver for communities.
The most recent study of actual expenditures in Gunnison County was conducted in 2005, in association with Arts and Economic Prosperity III. Figures showed that total industry expenditures of the non-profit arts and culture organizations and their audiences in Gunnison County alone was over $6 million. Additionally, $300,000 worth of revenue was generated to the local government.
Certainly it’s easy to see that when a tourist buys a ticket to the Crested Butte Music Festival’s summer opera, the Music Festival benefits. What studies have shown, however, is that along with that ticket, the rest of the community benefits as well. Cultural tourists attending a performance also produce what is called ancillary spending. They might buy a new outfit, go out to dinner, pay a babysitter and purchase a souvenir. In Gunnison County, that figure averages out to be $48.19 per person, per event, excluding the price of the ticket. Overall, this local ancillary spending totaled almost $5 million in 2005.
Pat Montgomery, Arts Alliance representative for the Gunnison Arts Center, works in real estate development as a consultant. As such, he is constantly researching where tourists are coming from and what they’re interested in.
“There’s a huge amount of tourism dollars in the Rocky Mountain States that are actually created by the arts,” he states, adding surprisingly, “Only one of five people actually come to Gunnison County to ski.
“The remaining four—the grandparents, the parents of the Western State College student, the spouse taking a break from skiing for the day—are all looking for something else to do, and they’re looking for a varied menu. If we didn’t have art, we wouldn’t receive that flow of tourism dollars.”
“We are so fortunate to live in a community that has so many artists and opportunities,” says Jenny Birnie, executive director of the Center for the Arts and Arts Alliance Co-Chair. “Local actors sold out the Mountain Theatre’s production of Oklahoma!, the Music Festival is presenting the opera Carmen, the plein air painters are able to take a meaningful experience and translate it into art. For a small rural town, we have incredible artistic opportunities. We’re a force to be reckoned with.”
Capturing the Market
The Arts Alliance is working hard to capture this cultural tourism, as well as the general market willing to spend a buck on an artistic experience, and tell them about the variety of the region’s artistic opportunities. Numbers consistently show that it’s a worthwhile venture, with all those cultural expenditure dollars floating around, and studies prove it’s an industry that is only going to increase its spending volume over time.
To this end the members of the Arts Alliance have launched themselves into a media campaign to beat the band. This summer, they published the Arts Advisor magazine, with a comprehensive calendar of all the arts events being presented from May through October. They’re working to cross promote with website and electronic newsletter links on each other’s events both within the Arts Alliance as well as with Crested Butte Mountain Resort, the local Chambers of Commerce, the Tourism Association and KBUT. They’ve published a website (www.gunnisonvalleyarts.org) with information on each organization and its events. Monthly meetings assure they aren’t going “head to head” on a date for a cultural offering. They have promoted a joint event, Day of the Arts, showcasing many of the offerings available in the valley through their individual organizations.
“As the Arts Alliance we have a larger profile,” explains Elizabeth Bond, executive director of the Mountain Theatre and Arts Alliance representative. “Working together makes it easier to see the whole effort rather than picking away at our own territories. United we are a lot stronger than if we were fragmented. Once they get a taste, they’ll keep coming back.”
Additionally, they’re looking to the future, with a joint ticketing program allowing customers to buy tickets for any Arts Alliance member’s event through a single website.
“People want to be able to go online, hit the proper links and buy tickets,” says Montgomery. “They’re only captive for so much time. If they can’t find what they want they will keep searching and go somewhere else. So we need to show everyone that everything is available here and make it easy.”
They’re also participating in the new Arts and Economic Prosperity IV study that will help them further evaluate and target their potential market, as well as promote the economic impacts their industry is having right here in Gunnison County.
“It’s like a softball team,” says Shaun Horne, AWE representative to the Arts Alliance and owner of Oh Be Joyful Gallery. “When one player is really good that helps you. Relationship-building is critical in helping each other out. The team mentality is really potent.”