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The Nonprofit Economy

Arts organizations say they're generating so much business that the government should give them more money.

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The nonprofit arts industry might be the new General Motors. Last week, just before a congressional subcommittee was to suggest a funding level for the NEA, Americans for the Arts released partial results from "the most comprehensive economic impact study of the nonprofit arts and culture industry ever conducted in the United States." Guess what: the industry's still booming! Or at least it was in 2005, the year studied, despite recent warnings from other quarters that philanthropic and government support is not keeping pace with its growth.

According to Americans for the Arts' snapshot of 156 communities and regions, nonprofit arts groups are responsible for a whopping $166 billion annually in economic activity. That's 24 percent more than five years earlier. And they're generating $29.6 billion annually in federal, state, and local tax revenues (which ought to help with that trillion or so we're dropping on the Iraq war, but I digress). Of the $166 billion generated nationally, $63 billion is said to be direct spending by arts organizations; the other $103 billion is estimated event-related spending by their audiences.

According to the study, nonprofit arts now produce 5.7 million "full-time equivalent" jobs (unfortunately not the same thing as 5.7 million actual full-time jobs). It also claims that "nonprofits arts support more jobs than accountants and auditors, public safety officers, and even lawyers." Americans for the Arts president Robert L. Lynch calls the study, which included 6,000 organizations and nearly 95,000 arts attendees, "a myth buster" and says it demonstrates that "the arts are an industry that stimulates the economy." Lynch didn't have to wait long for evidence of the study's impact: the day after it was released and after a "special briefing on Capitol Hill," the House interior appropriations subcommittee approved $160 million in NEA funding for 2008, $35 million more than this year. In the unlikely event that this recommendation sails through the rest of the legislative process, it'll be the largest increase in NEA history.

The survey was conducted with the help of local partners. The Illinois Arts Alliance, for example, used $20,000 from the MacArthur Foundation to collect information from 116 Chicago area organizations. Local results haven't been released yet, but IAA staffer Julie Adrianopoli says the data from Chicago turned out to be so strong that Americans for the Arts is coming here to unveil the second phase of its report (the breakdown of regional and community data). That's no real surprise: Chicago was the biggest fish in the pond. New York and Los Angeles were excluded from the study to keep from skewing the results: in each of these cities, organizational expenditures alone amount to more than $1 billion annually.

Groups left out of the study can determine their individual economic impact with the help of a DIY Arts & Economic Prosperity Calculator, available at americansforthearts.org. For example, you can put a number to the jobs you're supporting in your community by dividing your annual budget by 100,000 and multiplying the result by a full-time-equivalent jobs number from a table accompanying the instructions. Plug in other numbers, consult other tables, and you can calculate the taxes you're generating and the economic impact of all those dinners, hotel rooms, new clothes, and tanks of expensive gas you've ostensibly caused your audiences to buy.

IAA is planning an organizational briefing, press conference, and panel discussion Wednesday, June 6, when the second part of the report will be released. Events are at the Cultural Center, and Chicago data will be available.

Globalization Hits Hyde Park

The Astrophysical Journal was founded by University of Chicago astronomer George E. Hale in 1895; in the 1970s, the university made a gift of it to the American Astronomical Society but continued to act as its publisher. The journal, now issued three times a month, and a couple of sister publications are responsible for 40 of the 158 jobs at University of Chicago Press's journals division and for 30,000 of the editorial pages produced there annually. But the publications had become relatively unprofitable, generating less than 10 percent of the press's revenues, says journals manager Nawin Gupta. Recently the university suggested a revenue-sharing arrangement with the American Astronomical Society to replace the pay-for-service relationship they've had for the last 30 years; Gupta says they were surprised when the society said no thanks and found itself a new publisher.

The Astrophysical Journal's current contract with the University of Chicago Press runs through November 2008; after that those 40 editors and production staffers will likely be hitting the street. "We're always looking to acquire other journals," Gupta says, "but 40 people is a lot," and new business on the horizon "won't come close to replacing those jobs." The press is hunting for positions at the university for as many of the threatened employees as possible. Longer term, Gupta says, offshore outsourcing--the movement of editing and production jobs to places like the Philippines, India, and China--is a concern for U.S. publishers.

American Astronomical Society executive officer Kevin Marvel says the university's attempt to change their business relationship is what precipitated the move; he maintains that the society has "never turned down fee increases that were reasonably justified." The new publisher for the astronomical journals is the British-based Institute of Physics; Marvel says the bulk of the copyediting will be done in India.

This Critic Is a Dog

Word from the Goodman Theatre is that director Mary Zimmerman, now rehearsing Mirror of the Invisible World there, relies on her constant companion Beary to sniff out genuine performances. When the emotion's real, Beary's alert; if the mutt's snoozing, chances are the actors aren't reaching deep enough. Zimmerman says this is the sixth or seventh show for Beary, a shepherd mix adopted from a shelter about four years ago, and notes that he also monitors auditions. "I don't want anyone to think that my dog casts my shows," she says, "but he reaffirms my opinion. If someone's not acting very well, he just dozes through it." It's an advantage that "he can't distinguish between pretend behavior if it's truly felt and reality." Beary never warms up to a really good villain.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illstration by Laura Park.

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