Prioritize the arts

The City Council should reconsider its support of the arts

Chico has a number of qualities that make it worth visiting. It’s home to a beautiful university and a renowned brewery, both of which bring in thousands of visitors from across the country every year. Another magnet for tourism is the arts and culture scene, the merits of which are clearer than ever thanks to the Chico Arts Commission’s wise decision a few years ago to conduct a survey measuring its worth.

It’s well-known, of course, that the arts enrich our lives by making our communities and neighborhoods more vibrant places to live and work. Here in Chico, the thriving arts scene has established the city’s identity as an arts-rich region. But what’s also important to acknowledge—especially these days, when some see support for the arts as wasteful—is that they are an economic driver.

That’s right. The arts not only result in cultural and social benefits, but also in tangible financial ones.

According to that study, which was unveiled Monday by a representative of advocacy group Americans for the Arts (see “Unsung industry,” Newslines, page 9), a conservative estimate of the economic impact of Chico’s arts industry is $17.7 million. It’s a conservative figure, because it’s based on the responses of just over half of the city’s nearly 100 nonprofit arts organizations. In other words, the economic benefits likely are much greater than was reported.

Other impressive findings: that money supports more than 450 full-time jobs, and buoys local government coffers by at least $500,000. Half-a-million bucks isn’t chump change. Moreover, creative communities attract creative people, a valuable commodity for businesses looking to plant roots.

Now that our city leaders know what sort of economic driver the arts are, an important question is at hand: What will they do about it?

Over the past few years, as the city’s faced declining revenue amid rising employee costs, officials have pulled away from the longtime efforts to support local artistic endeavors, by both reducing city resources needed to operate a viable Arts Commission and the funding for local arts organizations to carry out the work.

In short, investment in the arts is a direct investment in the community. The council should recognize this and act accordingly.