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Analysis: Lee’s arts community creating jobs

June 26, 2014
By CHUCK BALLARO ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

A new research study has determined that Lee County's arts community is creating jobs and opening up entrepreneurial opportunities.

That doesn't mean there aren't a few in the industry that found those numbers skeptical.

The "creative industries," arts businesses such as nonprofit museums, symphonies, and theaters, have produced 1,856 nonprofit and for-profit businesses, 5,277 employees -comprising 3.6 percent of all businesses and 1.9 percent of the people they employ, according to the "Creative Industries: Business & Employment in the Arts in Lee County" report.

The findings are based on an analysis of Dun & Bradstreet data from January, with the study conducted by Americans for the Arts - a nonprofit organization for advancing the arts and arts education - and includes analyses of 11,000 unique political and geographic regions nationwide.

"It's another indication of how important it is to have a diverse cultural community and that the arts are socio-economic drivers in Lee County and nationwide," said Lydia Black, executive director of Alliance for the Arts. "This study definitively confirms that the arts mean business."

Black said those reports are instrumental in determining what kinds of education are needed by students as they head into the work force.

"Do we need to add more arts into education so if colleges were to say 'You're required to take part in some arts programming so when you come here, you're an out of the box thinker and not regurgitating what you memorized," Black said. "They help our education guide what kind of curriculum we want and integrate it into the core."

The analysis shows a larger-than-expected prevalence of arts business establishments, while a mapping analysis shows that these businesses are broadly distributed, not strictly in the downtown areas.

Lee County's nonprofit arts and culture industry brought in $68.3 million of revenue in 2010 - supporting 2,038 full-time equivalent jobs and generating $9.4 million in local and state government revenues, according to the new Arts & Economic Prosperity IV national economic impact study.

Nationwide, the report reveals more than three-quarter of a million arts businesses employ 3.1 million people. This represents 4.2 percent of businesses and 2.1 percent of employees, respectively.

The report also shows that arts businesses and employment have maintained this share of businesses and employment and has been resilient during the nation's up-and-down economic cycles.

One person locally, who has worked in the arts his whole life, is somewhat skeptical of the numbers. Brian Weaver, who runs Circus Arts United, a company that hosts an arts festival downtown during the season, said the employment situation for artists is "the worst he's ever seen."

"When I came here two years ago, I couldn't find anything as far as art was concerned. That's why the show was born," Weaver said. "There are a lot of artists in the area and they have to work somewhere."

Weaver said it would be great to see Cape Coral give more help in establishing art festivals to allow arts festivals, since putting one on means the use of lots of resources and funding.

"It's expensive when we close down 47th Terrace and with all the permits and insurance, and the police costs $3,000," Weaver said. "Fort Myers does a lot to support its arts scene with the art walk. Cape Coral doesn't show much support toward that."

Dana Brunett, economic development director for the city, said the news is a mixed bag. Sure there are jobs, but what do they pay?

"You need the arts as part of your quality of life. People want to see shows or plays," Brunett said. "The other side of the coin is you don't get the high-paying jobs. That's just part and parcel. But it is a necessary piece of the puzzle."



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