Earlier this month the Maryland State Arts Council, which tracks revenue and attendance figures at the state's 244 arts groups and programs, reported that in 2011 arts organizations generated a total of $518 million in direct spending by presenters and audiences and created more than 11,000 jobs. When income and employment from related local businesses — restaurants, parking garages, hotels, retail stores. etc. — were factored in, the total economic impact of all this activity on the state's economy came to just over $1 billion.
That's a lot of money, and it has made the arts a significant engine of economic development in Maryland. In Baltimore, for example, it helped spark a mini building boom in new theater construction. Recently, the Everyman Theatre completed its final performance in the company's longtime venue on Charles Street before moving to new digs on the west side of downtown at the old Town Theatre after putting it through a $17.7 million upgrade.
Meanwhile, the newly renamed Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric reopened in 2011 after a $12.9 million renovation that allows it to present major Broadway shows on a bigger, deeper stage, and the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company plans to spend $6 million turning a former office building on Calvert and Redwood streets into a new, 250-seat facility. Center Stage likewise wants to add a small, 50-seat theater for new experimental works.
Projects like these make all of Maryland's cities and communities better places to live and work, and the visitors they attract help support local businesses and industry. When Americans for the Arts, a national nonprofit organization that supports arts and arts education, surveyed local audiences at events around the country, it found that the average attendee spent $26.40 per person for each event, not including the price of admission. And people from out of town said they spent nearly twice that much on food, transportation and lodging when an art event was the main purpose of their visit.
In Baltimore, designated arts districts have helped turn once-dreary urban neighborhoods into nascent cultural hubs. The Station North Arts and Entertainment District near Penn Station between Greenmount Avenue and Charles Street has attracted scores of young artist-entreprenuers who have turned vacant and dilapidated old factory buildings into living lofts, studios and gallery spaces. In Highlandtown, the nonprofit Creative Alliance is pumping energy and enthusiasm into a historic immigrant neighborhood, and groups like Everyman Theatre are turning the area around the Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower on the west side of downtown into the city's newest cultural destination.
That's a testament to the power of the arts not only to lift peoples' spirits and let their imaginations soar but to transform the communities that support them in tangible ways through economic growth and development. They are truly the gift that keeps on giving.