An important area of planning and policymaking is nurturing the economic development of the sector, which includes small, mid-sized, and large arts organizations and small individual artists/producers. There is a wealth of literature and data about the impact of the arts and cultural sector in terms of gross domestic product and jobs. This section reviews recent data on the impact of the arts and culture sector on the economy and outlines strategies for engaging the sector to advance cultural economic development.

Impact of the Arts and Culture Sector on Economic Development

Recent data analysis by the National Endowment for the Arts and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis on U.S. spending between 1998 and 2013 found that the arts and culture sector produced more than other key economic sectors, such as construction and utilities. Top industries include arts-related retail (art galleries, book stores); performing arts; independent artists, writers, and performers; publishing; and creative advertising services.

The American Planning Association has also issued a briefing paper on economic vitality in 2011 that underscores the significance of the sector as a component of broad-based economic development strategies. The APA calls for the recognition and marketing of a community?s arts and culture assets, investing in it to build both social and economic capital, and promoting mutually-beneficial collaboration between creative industries and other industry types located in the same geographic area.

A study commissioned by the Urban Institute examined the economic benefits of cooperation among artists, arts organizations, and economic development agencies, with a special focus on traditional artists, i.e., artists working with material objects. It unearthed recommendations that are broadly applicable to traditional and nontraditional arts microentrepreneurs. The study found that regional economic development planning initiatives are best suited to help artists build markets for their work; economic development agencies can offer tailored business development services geared towards artist microentrepreneurs to provide the support they need in order to scale up and to fully take advantage of potential market opportunities. It also noted a particular barrier to structuring economic incentives for arts ? finding that economic development agencies most frequently offered discounted loans or other ?shallow subsidies,? which are most beneficial to more mature businesses, and noting a lack of programs that respond to the concerns of very small businesses, e.g., those formed by people without a history of attachment to formal labor market, which typifies many traditional artists (Walker et al., 2003).

Ann Markusen and Anne Gadwa’s research has also highlighted the work of jurisdictions to promote cultural economic development. Model initiatives include:

  • the West Hollywood Community Development Agency?s launch of an Arts Retention Program, which helps small arts organizations secure long-term leases and provides technical assistance, seed grants, and planning support to mitigate displacement; and
  • the city of Providence, Rhode Island?s development of arts-friendly tax incentives to facilitate redevelopment and adaptive reuse of properties to development into artist work and live/work spaces.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts operates a Cultural Facilities Fund (CFF), which supports cultural economic development through planning and capital support for cultural facilities. See the Cultural Facilities page for more information.

Planning Strategies to Advance Cultural Economic Development

The following content is adapted from a table of strategies that originally appeared in the APA?s Arts and Culture Briefing Paper on Economic Vitality. This revised table was originally included in a thesis paper by Jennifer Erickson.

Economic Vitality Goal Planning Strategy
Community Development and Revitalization
Promote the development of arts/cultural/creative entrepreneurs Provide professional development, networking, and other educational opportunities that support the development of arts/cultural/creative entrepreneurs
Promoting community and neighborhood revitalization Create opportunities to integrate artistic strategies into planning and community development processes in ways that emphasize arts, culture, and creative expression
Planning and Zoning
Facilitate the adoption of arts, cultural, entertainment, historic, or heritage districts Conduct planning to facilitate the identification of areas with a concentration of arts, cultural, entertainment, historic, and heritage assets that would be strengthened through formal recognition as a district; assist with the assembly of materials that would grant official certification or designation of the identified area as a district
Facilitate live/work and live/work/sell mixed use spaces for arts and creative industries Provide and advocate for economic or regulatory support for combined residential and commercial space for artists and adaptive reuse for arts and cultural uses
Facilitate the development of spaces and facilities that can serve as arts incubators Amend zoning and offer incentives that can stimulate production of low-cost space and services to support artistic, cultural, and creative professionals and arts-specific business incubators
Marketing and Branding
Facilitate branding and urban design in ways that celebrate community culture and character Facilitate visual branding and design elements that communicate and reinforce a community?s culture and character using logo development, graphic design, advertising, marketing, and urban design
Promote cultural assets in ways that attract economic investment and workers Amend zoning, streamline permitting, and facilitate public and private funding to support the development and provision of cultural amenities, e.g., permanent and temporary public art, marketplaces, bazaars, arcades, parks, festivals, community centers, and other public spaces for the public that could accommodate cultural uses
Create economic clusters that include and engage creative businesses Work with developers and property owners to market and promote commercial spaces that meet the needs of creative businesses and other businesses in order to facilitate co-location and collaboration


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