“The government doesn’t understand the value of the arts to communities. They think of it as an extra, not a necessity,” Garcia said. “We need to continue to raise awareness about the economic impact and value of the arts for tourism and the economy. Most arts organizations don’t talk about themselves as economic drivers to their elected officials.”
Dozens of business and arts leaders from across the county joined the Marietta Area Council and the Marietta Business Association at the Mansour Center in Marietta to hear Garcia speak Wednesday morning. Northside Hospital sponsored the breakfast.
Garcia said arts programs are “prosperity generators” because they can result in a boost in tourism revenues, job creation and a stabilization of property values.
“The arts are a magnet for businesses,” Garcia said. “In major urban centers, a strong cultural environment is a factor in recruiting new businesses. When businesses are looking to relocate, they focus on cities with strong cultural centers, like when Boeing relocated from Seattle to Chicago.”
Nationally, nonprofit arts organizations account for $166.2 billion of economic activity annually — a 24 percent increase in the past five years, Garcia said.
A recent study found that 380 nonprofit arts groups in 10 Georgia counties produced $387 million a year for the state’s economy, Garcia said. There are 240,000 arts-related jobs in Georgia and the state’s for-profit music industry generates $3.7 billion a year for the state’s economy, Garcia said.
Garcia said Cobb’s nonprofit and for-profit arts organizations account for 5 percent of the county’s businesses. There are 2,515 arts-related businesses, creating 8,000 arts-related jobs, or 2 percent of the job pool in the county, Garcia said.
“Out of the 100 most populated counties in the country, Cobb ranks 20th in arts-related businesses per capita in the nation,” Garcia said.
“Cobb may very well possess the most comprehensive set of arts assets in Georgia,” said David Connell, president and CEO of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce. “We use the Cobb arts and cultural businesses to recruit new industry into Cobb. It presents prospects with a picture of Cobb that it is progressive, committed to community safety and building a strong quality of life for its citizens.”
The arts industry also has a major impact on education, Garcia said, since many schools are facing high dropout and low literacy rates. She said arts can “provide the challenge that makes kids love learning.”
According to Garcia, students who take four years of arts education have higher SAT scores, averaging 100 points higher than their peers. Those involved in the arts averaged 58 points higher on verbal tests and 38 points higher on math and in Georgia, two of the top three schools with the highest SAT scores are arts magnet schools, she said.
Arts programs foster stronger social skills, more motivation, higher self-esteem and respect for peers, Garcia said. In the business world, Garcia said, the highest paying jobs utilize the creativity, higher-order thinking, problem-solving and communication skills that arts programs develop.
“And yet, 85 percent of business leaders complain that they lack job applicants with creativity and innovative skills,” Garcia said.
Public funding has dropped 84 percent in the past few years, which makes it difficult for lower-income families to access the arts, she said. And while she said there needed to be a balance of private and public funding, Garcia said the government has fallen short in terms of support and funding.
Garcia said arts programs cannot be self-funded. An arts program funding half of its needs itself would be “doing very well,” she said.
Matthew Hendrix, the Fine Arts Director at North Cobb Christian School, said that for this economic climate, funding 50 percent would be extremely good, and that rarely happens.
Many of Hendrix’s students are involved in school activities and in the community, performing at community theaters or exhibiting their work outside of school. Still, he said he knows of two community theaters that had to close their doors due to a lack of funding.
“I think a lot of arts organizations, when times are better, they might hire a cleaning service to clean their building,” said Michele Zeimann-DeVos, executive director of the Georgia Ballet. “When it’s tough, you take out the garbage yourself. And even the artists that we support, sometimes we can’t hire them as often or for as long. It definitely trickles down to the entire economy. When the arts are suffering, all the people we are associated with suffer as well.”
Garcia has 30 years of experience leading arts and cultural programs throughout the Southeast and has been president of the Metro Atlanta Arts and Culture Council since 2007.