With all the unemployment and economic issues in the USA today, I thought I’d chime in with my own two cents’ worth of ideas. Not that I don’t want to get back to reading research, but the economy has been very much on everyone’s mind lately. And one of the biggest economic drivers is, as unlikely as it might seem, the arts. Indeed the arts is what is called an “economic multiplier,” that is, for each dollar invested in the arts, you get a multiple of dollars in return. In some cases, the multiplier can be as high as 15 or higher (that is, for every dollar invested, you get fifteen dollars in return).
How is that possible? First, the arts are resource-intensive. I’ll pick the most resource-intensive art I can think of: opera. If you look into what it takes to produce an opera, not counting the space, since operas can be performed in already-existing spaces, then opera requires, at a minimum, singers, costumers, scores, makeup artists, hairdressers, stage managers, prop managers, directors, schedulers, choreographers, set builders and set designers, painters, prompters, and everything and everyone else it takes to get the stage ready for the actual performance. And those costumers and set builders need raw materials to work with, and equipment to make their products with. The props are generally made by someone. Then there is the music librarian, who manages the music library and makes sure each person has the proper score; the support personnel, who haul the music stands out, plug in the stand lights, and drag out the chairs for the orchestra to sit on, and put all that away afterwards. There are the musicians, who spend days at home alone practicing and learning their parts, and the people who make the musicians’ instruments, and the people who make replacement parts for the instruments, and the people who repair the instruments, and the people who sell and deliver all those instruments. There is the legion of music teachers who taught those musicians to play their instruments (and the singers to sing). There are the music publishers and editors, the music proofreaders, the translators, the printers, the person who writes the program notes, the recording and audio engineers to make recordings of the performances, the lighting managers and manufacturers of that equipment, the makers of the CDs and DVDs, the people who make the playback devices and the retailers and wholesalers who sell them, and the truck drivers who deliver them to those sellers . . . and the list goes on.
The music industry in the United States employs one in every six people. A piano or other instrument can take up to a year to make (after all, a piano has 12,000 moving parts) and, in the case of a piano, requires dozens of specialized craftsmen–most of whom don’t have fancy degrees but have apprenticed on the job. Singers and musicians train for years to be able to do their jobs. The U.S. government spent $500 million dollars on the National Endowment for the Arts. Last year, in just ticket sales of live performances (not counting purchases of CDs or DVDs related to the same events) were $15 billion, second only to professional sports. At a 15% effective tax rate on that $15 billion dollars (because arts organizations have to pay salaries to those they hire to perform), that is a $2,25 billion return on our investment of half a billion.
In fact, supporting your local opera company may be just about the most efficient job-creation engine of all time.