Orange County arts groups suffer box-office decline, study finds

Orange County arts aficionados enjoyed lower ticket prices in 2008-09, but the increased attendance wasn't enough to prevent a drop in box office revenue, a Chapman University study released Monday shows.

For 24 nonprofit arts organizations surveyed both in 2005 and 2009, the average price dropped 15.5%, from $29.10 to $24.60, the study found. Paid admissions grew 11.6%, reaching 1.9 million. But the combined box office returns of the 24 arts groups were down almost 6% from mid-decade, from $49.7 million to $46.8 million.

Nevertheless, jobs in the nonprofit arts sector held up better from 2005 to 2009 than in the overall local economy, Chapman economists determined. While employment in the county fell 7.4% over that span, the number of paid positions in the arts increased 2.1%, growing to 3,618. Of those, 643 positions were full time, a gain of 4.8%. If the local arts sector were a single employer, the study notes, it would be the 23rd largest private concern in Orange County, where Disney is king with 19,800 workers.

Donations were clearly the bulwark that made jobs growth in the arts possible; contributions increased more than 25% for the 24 groups, from $45.8 million to $57.5 million. The time given by volunteers added the equivalent of 377 additional full-time employees to the county's arts work force, according to the report.

Chapman has produced the quadrennial "Economic Impact of the Nonprofit Arts on Orange County" survey since 1990, in conjunction with the Orange County Business Committee for the Arts; the committee disbanded last year with the retirement of its founding executive director, Betty Moss.

In an introduction to this year's study, Moss noted the attrition on the Orange County arts scene since the 2006 survey, as two major groups, Opera Pacific and Ballet Pacifica, went out of business, along with some smaller ones. The 26 responses to survey forms mailed in June was down drastically from the average of 47 in five previous surveys — which could reflect a lack of time or enthusiasm for the study among smaller groups, rather than a lack of arts organizations. Most of the large and midsized groups that account for the great majority of the arts' economic clout were included, but three important midsized organizations did not participate: the Orange County Museum of Art, Irvine Barclay Theatre and Laguna Art Museum. Collectively, they accounted for $11.5 million in revenue and $9.9 million in spending in 2008-09, according to their federal tax returns posted at

The 26 groups in the survey pumped $137.4 million into the local economy; factoring in multiplier effects that reflect what arts audiences spend on transportation, meals and the like, and what arts employees spend from their salaries, Chapman economists estimated the nonprofit arts scene's economic impact at $484 million.

The study mainly excluded educational institutions, such as the arts programs at Cal State Fullerton, UC Irvine, Chapman (which is in Orange) and community colleges. However, the respondents did include Orange County High School for the Arts and Laguna College of Art and Design.

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