Arts driving tourism in Wisconsin, report shows

The nonprofit arts industry is pulling tourism dollars into the state, according to a recent report by Americans for the Arts.

Arts & Economic Prosperity 5, the organization’s fifth report on the economic impact of nonprofit arts and cultural organizations, gathered data nationwide from surveys of 14,439 organizations and 212,691 arts event attendees for its analysis. Its 341 study areas represent all 50 states.

The report shows that in 2015, the nonprofit arts and culture sector generated an estimated $656.9 million in total economic activity in Wisconsin, supporting 26,695 jobs.

Nearly 60 percent of survey respondents who came from out-of-state said the main reason for their visit was “specifically to attend this arts/cultural event.” And 45.7 percent of nonresident attendees said they would have traveled somewhere other than the state of Wisconsin to attend “a similar cultural event.”

That adds to the 43.1 percent of residents who said they would have traveled to a different community to attend a similar event. The report argues these numbers indicate that communities would lose out on much of their tourism revenue — as well as in-state resident spending — if they fail to provide “a variety of artistic and cultural experiences.”

Wisconsin has quite a few nonprofit groups dedicated to the arts: Art in Wisconsin, Beaver Dam Area Arts Association, Milwaukee Artist Resource Network, Plymouth Arts Foundation, Wisconsin Arts Board, Milwaukee Film and others.

Ken Fergeson, former president of the American Bankers Association and current chairman of NBC Oklahoma Bank, is quoted in the report saying he has seen first-hand the benefits of communities investing in their arts and culture scenes.

“As a banker, I have visited businesses in almost every city and town in my state,” Fergeson said. “There is a visible difference in places with a vibrant arts community. I see people looking for places to park, stores staying open late, and restaurants packed with diners.”

The report breaks down the $656.9 million economic impact figure into two parts: $376.9 million comes from spending on the part of nonprofit arts and cultural organizations, while $279.9 million comes from event-related spending by their audiences.

This spending brought an estimated $555.5 million in household income to locals, as well as $72.5 million in government revenue.

Arts & Economic Prosperity 5 taps localized research to gather these numbers, as well as incorporating event-related spending by audiences of these arts and cultural events. This includes things like parking costs, eating out, babysitter fees and other expenses.

In Wisconsin, nonresident attendees spent on average 159 percent more per person than locals — $78.38 compared to $30.27.

Nationwide, the report shows that the average event attendee spends about $31, not counting the cost of admission. It also shows that 34 percent of attendees come from outside the county in which the event took place.

The nonprofit arts industry generated about $166 billion nationally in 2015 — broken down to $63.8 billion spent by arts and cultural groups, with $102.5 billion spent by their audiences.

“No longer do community leaders need to feel that a choice must be made between arts funding and economic development,” said Robert Lynch, president and CEO for Americans for the Arts. “Nationally as well as locally, the arts mean business.”

See the report:

–By Alex Moe