Las Vegas and the arts

A recent study conducted by Americans for the Arts reveals that the nonprofit arts and culture organizations in the Las Vegas Valley generate annual economic activity of $204 million. That’s just the nonprofit arts. Think how that economic activity will grow when Las Vegas’ spectacular planned local arts initiatives are completed.

According to the study, nonprofit arts and culture organizations in the Las Vegas Valley spend $69.6 million directly, and their audiences spend another $134.6 million for tickets, dining, hotels, parking and incidentals. That $204 million, in turn, provides 5,828 full-time equivalent jobs and household income for local residents of $105 million. It also produces $8.4 million in local tax revenues and another $9.6 million in state tax revenues.

And that’s just the beginning. That economic activity will grow significantly when a number of key arts initiatives, now under way, are completed:

— The Smith Center for the Performing Arts, which will give the Las Vegas Philharmonic and the Nevada Ballet Theatre, among other arts organizations, permanent homes downtown.

— Enhancement of the city’s cultural corridor, including the Neon Museum and six other nonprofits.

— Adaptive re-use of the historic downtown post office and courthouse into a museum project reflecting the history and gaming of Las Vegas.

— Transformation of the historic Fifth Street Elementary School into an intellectual marketplace.

It will grow even further because of the work of the city’s recently created Office of Cultural Affairs, which will be spearheading the development of a “cultural plan” to help guide the city’s various arts initiatives as well as other arts priorities. In addition, there is further opportunity to enhance the arts in Las Vegas through the launch of a Metro Arts Council initiative by the Nevada Arts Council, the city, county and many of the community’s largest nonprofit organizations.

Most major cities have such a council to provide a single voice in the community for the nonprofit arts: to advocate for their needs and help maximize their potential. Those local arts councils provide an infrastructure of arts advocacy that crisscrosses the nation and has been instrumental in generating federal support for the arts and for arts education.

Both the arts and arts education have even broader potential for the Las Vegas economy. Arts education inspires creativity and innovative thinking, and those are crucial skills in an information age and a global economy.

In addition, the arts fuel a far broader part of the economy — that known as the “creative industries.” Those industries — comprising arts-centric businesses and organizations from museums and symphonies to architecture and advertising companies — employ nearly 3 million Americans, according to a 2005 study by Americans for the Arts. And they provide the artistic training and talent that drive much of the “information economy” — the fastest-growing segment of the nation’s economy. According to that study, Las Vegas already has more than 1,100 such creative enterprises. Expanding the arts community will only cause those to increase, as well.

The Nevada Legislature — which currently funds the Nevada Arts Council at approximately 70 cents per person — is considering Senate Bill 431, which would provide an increase of 30 cents per Nevadan in public funding for the arts.

Given the extraordinary growth in the state, this minimal increase would not only provide an additional $750,000 every year for the arts, but would allow for more arts in the education of our children, advance statewide economic development and contribute to the overall quality of life. Members of the community should work to ensure that this cultural growth continues by contacting state lawmakers before Monday to vote yes on SB431.

Americans for the Arts is held its annual convention in Las Vegas this weekend, bringing more than 1,000 leaders of the arts community from all across the country to town.

They came because Las Vegas is pointing the way for the nation and using the arts as a cornerstone for downtown redevelopment and economic growth. In doing so, Las Vegas is not only promoting the arts for their own intrinsic value — to delight, to inspire, to portray and to provoke — but also enabling them to provide a strong foundation for the city’s economic future. That’s a future that’s very exciting.

Oscar B. Goodman is mayor of Las Vegas. Robert L. Lynch is president and chief executive officer of Americans for the Arts, a nonprofit organization for advancing the arts.

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