Museums and Economic Impact

If you read my commentary last week on museums & public value, you know I have long advocated for museums coming up with a measurement for the true value we add to our communities. This is an ephemeral thing and I have long been flummoxed by our (my) inability to articulate such a measurement.

In the absence of that, we typically turn to economic measurements. And museums score well on this front too. When you add this to the (thus far somewhat intangible) public value we provide — I’d venture to say we are some of the more meaningful institutions within our communities.

Museums in Kenosha, Wisconsin, including the Kenosha Public Museum, provide a $12.2 million economic impact to the community.

Just last week I received an inquiry from a colleague asking for sources for economic impact studies. Shortly thereafter, my friend Dan Joyce of the Kenosha Public Museum posted information on such a study in his community: Kenosha Museums Boost Economy.

The news article revealed that the museums in Kenosha provide tangible economic benefit: The study by the Williams College Center for Creative Community Development, which focuses on the role of arts in community development, reveals the museums create a $12.2 million impact annually and account for about 200 jobs.

The American Alliance of Museums reports that the economic impact of Kenosha’s museums is not isolated to Wisconsin’s fourth-largest city:

  • Museums employ more than 400,000 Americans.
  • Museums directly contribute $21 billion to the U.S. economy each year. They generate billions more through indirect spending by their visitors.
  • 76% of all U.S. leisure travelers participate in cultural or heritage activities. These travelers — including visitors to museums — spend 60% more on average than other leisure travelers.
  • The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis has found that arts and cultural production constitute 4.2 percent of the nation’s entire economy, a $704 billion industry.
  • The nonprofit arts and culture industry annually generates over $135 billion in economic activity, supports more than 4.1 million full-time jobs and returns over $22 billion in local, state and federal tax revenues.
  • Museums and other cultural organizations return over five times as much in local, state, and federal tax revenue as they receive from all levels of government.

While I still strongly believe that we MUST come up with measurements that go beyond economics, this is still important information to have at your fingertips.

Museums matter in lots of ways, and many policymakers hyper-focus on economic measurements. AAM has some good tools here http://www.aam-us.org/advocacy/resources/economic-impact-statement. My guess is your state or regional museum association does as well. Work with them, use their tools, report on your impact. This is an important tool in the sustainability toolkit.

Do you have an economic impact statement for your museum? Have you shared it with policymakers, funders, and others who are interested? Have you used it in advocacy efforts?

Please share your thoughts with me.

A twenty-year veteran of the nonprofit world, Bob Beatty is founder of The Lyndhurst Group, a history, museum, and nonprofit consulting firm providing community-focused engagement strategies for institutional planning, organizational assessments, and interpretive direction.