The Dallas City Council loves art. Sure, council members like getting dressed up all fancy and going to look at the pretty pictures as much as the next person, but they aren't so simpleminded as to think art is purely for aesthetic enjoyment. This is Dallas, remember, where our leaders are clear-headed enough to know that what art is really about is the bottom line: money.
So when one addresses the City Council's Arts, Culture, & Libraries Committee, take a page from Maria Munoz-Blanco, director of the city's Office of Cultural Affairs. Monday afternoon, she gave the committee an overview of a study appropriately titled "Arts & Economic Prosperity in Dallas, Texas."
The study, performed by the national arts advocacy group Americans for the Arts in partnership with the Dallas Arts District and the city, found that the nonprofit arts and culture industry accounted for $322 million in expenditures in Dallas in 2010 and produced the equivalent of 11,227 full-time jobs. Nationwide, AFTA puts the totals at $135 billion in economic activity and 1.1 million people.
The presentation didn't delve too deeply into methodology -- the study's authors are scheduled to come to Dallas in the fall to give a more detailed presentation -- but there are some interesting tidbits. Like that .32-percent of jobs directly supported by the arts are in farming, fishing and forestry and that .06 percent are aerospace engineers. Or that more than half of the national average per-event expenditure of $24.60 goes toward food.
The gist of the presentation, though, was that a healthy arts sector is an economic boon to cities, even in tough economic times, and committee members were happy to underscore the point.
"I'd like to say I'm surprised, but I'm not," said Councilman Jerry Allen. Art is "straight-up economic development. I view every nickel we spend at the city level (coming back) 20, 30, 40, 50 times."
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He asked Munoz-Blanco what the AFTA people thought of Dallas' arts scene. "What was their attitude? How did you read them?" In other words: Were they blown away or were they totally blown away? Munoz-Blanco replied that they were always suitably impressed when they visited Dallas.
"Do they have grant money to hand out?" Someone in the briefing room tittered. "Do they have -- hey, this is part of the game," Allen said. "The more you get out at the national level about how cool we are in Dallas, that just resonates."
Council member Tennell Atkins picked up the thread, waxing poetic about a vision for the arts being a prerequisite for long-term economic development. Looking forward, the city will be wise to continue investing in the arts. Just glance at the Arts District, and you can see the cash flow.
Like "Meals on Wheels -- what you call those? The food trucks. Those food trucks, talk about economic impact. If the Arts Disctrict was not there, the food trucks would not be there."