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New Study Shows Economic Impact of Arts in Southwest Florida

The arts in Lee and Collier counties supported about 6,800 jobs and generated more than $11 million in local tax revenue.



The arts can be a little bit like a punching bag—taking the first blows when the economy turns or subjected to a pummeling when political moods shift.

But now, arts organizations are swinging back with a major new study that shows their economic muscle—more than $160 billion in expenditures nationally and nearly $150 million in Lee and Collier counties.

The Americans for the Arts, a nonprofit advocacy organization, released its Arts & Economic Prosperity 5: The Economic Impact of Nonprofit Arts & Cultural Organizations and Their Audiences report this afternoon, a 542-page account of how much cultural organizations and their audiences spend, how many jobs they support and how much they pump into local, state and the national coffers. The study relied on audience surveys and financial data provided by 14,439 organizations in 341 counties and municipalities, including Collier, Lee and the City of Fort Myers.

Americans for the Arts published its first economic report in 1994. This latest report, the fifth, relies on data collected in 2015. The highlights:

  • Nationally, arts and cultural organizations spent $63.8 billion.
  • Their audiences generated another $102.5 billion in event-related expenditures.
  • Arts and cultural institutions supported 4.6 million jobs and generated $27.5 billion in revenue to local, state and federal governments.   

From San Francisco, where Americans for the Arts is holding its annual convention, Lydia Black, executive director of the Lee County Alliance for the Arts, celebrated the findings. They’re evidence, she says, of the arts sector’s viability and Southwest Florida’s economic comeback.

“We know the arts as entertainment. We know they provide amazing sources of education,” says Black, whose organization spearheaded the data collection in Lee and assisted the United Arts Council in Collier.  “This study shows the arts industry is more than entertainment; it’s about dollars, cents and economic revitalization.”

Local statistics include:

  • The arts and culture sector supported 2,923 full-time equivalent jobs in Collier and 3,875 in Lee (1,389 of which were in the City of Fort Myers).
  • Lee County arts organizations and their audiences spent $140 million; Collier’s spent $107.7 million.
  • Direct expenditures by Lee and Collier arts organizations and audiences generated $3.6 million in local government revenue for Collier and $7.6 million in for Lee. A total of $18.4 million from the two counties went to the state.

The new study shows just how much the arts have rebounded since the recession. The previous Arts & Economic Prosperity report, based on 2010 data, shows that full-time equivalent arts and culture jobs in Lee County about doubled between then and 2015. Total expenditures by arts organizations and audiences in Lee increased by about $72 million. Collier data from 2010 was not immediately available.

“I could not anticipate what that growth would be. We were overall really pleased to see the arts industry was part of the revitalization process. We saw significant growth since 2010,” Black says.

Read our profile of Alliance for the Arts executive director Lydia Black here.

She hopes the study helps make the case to patrons, donors and politicians that the arts go beyond their cultural, social and educational value and touch communities’ bottom lines.

“They are a good investment, a smart investment,” she says.

Black will offer a community presentation about the report on Tuesday, June 27, at 5:30 p.m. at the Alliance for the Arts, 10091 McGregor Blvd. Fort Myers. The presentation will include a welcome from the Alliance for the Arts Board of Directors, brief remarks by city of Fort Myers Mayor Randall Henderson and Southwest Florida Community Foundation CEO Sarah Owen and conclude with a Lee County arts impact overview presentation by Lydia Black. Attendance is free, but a reservation is required.

To learn more, visit ArtInLee.org/Impact or americansforthearts.org. The Collier data is available here.

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