RI Governor’s inspiring proposal to invest in the arts

In the face of economic obstacles for the nation’s smallest state, Governor Lincoln Chafee is looking for the arts sector to deliver a big solution—and he’s willing to make the investment necessary to help.

We have seen reports that art is an economic driver, contributing $504 billion to national GDP, according to a study by the US Bureau of Economic Analysis and the National Endowment for the Arts. We have also seen the success stories of how mayors of cities, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Seattle, have used art as a tool to address citywide issues.

In a state that struggles with rising unemployment and slashed city budgets, Gov. Chafee is electing to take an innovative approach in imagining the state’s budget because he sees state investment in the cultural sector as a clear opportunity for improving all of Rhode Island:

“It’s already here. It’s all around us in this state,” he told The Associated Press. “It just needs a little recognition, a little help. When you look at what the arts can offer the economy, the community, our quality of life, it makes a lot of sense.”

That’s why Gov. Chafee has proposed a $35 million investment in grants for local arts facilities. This funding would give leverage to local museums, theaters, and historic sites to continue bringing more spending and revenue to the state. If lawmakers approve, the proposal will appear as a voter referendum on a statewide ballot.

As David Klepper points out in his Associated Press article, the numbers look hopeful for a positive return on investment for the state:

… Rhode Island’s more than 1,000 arts organizations created more than 5,200 jobs in 2009 and contributed $324 million in economic activity. The state estimates that every $1 spent by an arts organization in Rhode Island generates $2 for the economy thanks to spillovers to restaurants, hotels and other businesses.

In Massachusetts alone, research from New England Foundation for the Arts indicates that the arts bring in $2.1 billion in spending and $2.5 billion in economic activity. With this data in mind, the cultural sector appears to be a safe place to invest. 

When members of the Massachusetts State House and Senate consider their FY15 budget for the arts, they have the opportunity to follow the Rhode Island governor's lead and invest in the proven economic engine of the arts.

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