The Arts, Too, Could Bring a Super Bowl to San Diego

Currently basking in the afterglow of its local yachting syndicate's retrieval of the America's Cup, San Diego has already begun to contemplate the prospects for the next Cup defense in local waters in terms of its fiscal and reputation benefits.

The America's Cup victory comes close on the heels of the city's recent debut as co-host of a World Series and precedes its presentation of the next Super Bowl. It is satisfying for local boosters to contemplate the almost narcotic effect that such major sports events have on the local economy. They mean the infusion of a vast amount of money by tourists and media, along with the kind of publicity that most chambers of commerce only get to dream about. Sports, both professional and amateur, are big business and good for other business. Generally, what is good for local private enterprise is usually good for local public enterprise. Everyone knows this, of course, but far fewer people would be inclined to agree if we substituted "art" for "sport."

In recent years, supporters of the arts have increasingly employed the phrase "the arts industry" in their attempts to demonstrate that the arts are a significant economic asset to a community and that public financial support for the arts is a sound investment.

If one is prepared to look at art as a potentially good investment, there is ample evidence beyond the stores of renowned paintings in the vaults of major corporations, or the latest "knockdowns" on a Vermeer or a Rodin at Sotheby's.

Narrow the focus to our immediate concern with the municipal purse and there is also abundant evidence of favorable rates of return. It is difficult to imagine, for example, Florence, Athens, Salzburg or Hollywood minus the art forms for which they are famed. Their city administrators may well be proud of their artistic offerings, but they are doubtless even more cognizant of their economic contributions. In short, good art can be good business, and good business is usually good public finance; a city need not be Florence to appreciate or benefit from the maxim.

The purpose here is to address the all too common misconception of the arts--and, importantly, public financial support for them--as fiscal frivolity or extravagance. One need only examine the history of budget cuts in times of fiscal restraint to find the view of the arts as an expendable luxury. The fact is that the arts, even by conservative estimate, annually account for something in the neighborhood of $200 million of economic activity in the San Diego region.

This is economic impact of not only the direct effect of the season opera-goer or the patron of art galleries and museums, but also the secondary effects of art-related activity, including the financial benefits enjoyed by restaurants, record stores, music stores and a good deal more. Of course, much of the wages and salaries in these secondary beneficiaries of artistic activity in the community are yet again re-spent in the local economy, thereby creating more economic activity.

This economic process, referred to by economists as the "multiplier" effect, is the reason why a direct expenditure of $60 million on the arts in the San Diego region "multiplies" into an ultimate economic impact of around $200 million. In these terms, the arts "industry" is clearly significant to the local economy.

But what kind of an "industry" is the arts? From a purely economic point of view, it would not serve the purpose here to represent the economic role of the arts in the community as special or unique. The great part of art activity is local in nature, that is, locally produced and locally consumed. In this sense, the arts are not so much "additive" to local wealth as they recirculate money already in the community. They do not perform the same economic function as other types of industries, called "basic industries," which produce products that are sold to the "outside world" in return for new money that is added to the local economy.

This distinction would seem, at first consideration, to diminish the importance of the role of the arts in the local economy, but that would both misconstrue and oversimplify the relationship between the arts and basic industrial development. In the fierce competition among cities for basic types of industries (particularly those in high-tech, biomedical research and development, banking, finance and insurance), cultural richness can play an important part in a community's overall attractiveness.

The presence of a vibrant artistic climate can be an asset to corporations competing for highly educated personnel. Communities with good or great museums, opera and ballet companies, symphonies and events such as jazz and visual arts festivals--not to slight a vast number of other artistic activities--add vitality, variety and interest to a corporation's locale as well as a "cultural bonus" to employees and their families.

Moreover, the pool of artistic talent in a community of visual artists, designers, architects, writers, composers, actors, etc., can vastly enrich the local labor pool with skills and talents of direct or ancillary utility to business and industry.

Needless to say, this relationship has its reciprocal dimension. In 1982, American business provided more than $500 million to the arts, much of it going to the communities in which those businesses reside. In addition to augmenting the attractiveness of communities for private economic development with its concomitant benefits to the public purse, there must be added the important role the arts play in such civic concerns as downtown redevelopment, conventions and tourism, historic preservation, education and entertainment.

Finally, it is appropriate to note that the arts have been responsible for rather substantial, if somewhat episodic, infusions of new economic activity into local economies.

Perhaps, if this kinship of arts "industry" and local economics gains wider public understanding and support, the day may not be far off when San Diego will play host to a Tut exhibit or a Picasso retrospective or one of the other Super Bowls or America's Cups of art.

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