Who said art doesn’t pay?

Durango’s scene sparks $9 million in economic activity, new study says

Tourism officials knew Durango’s arts and culture industry was valuable, but now they can put a number to it.

Nonprofit arts and culture organizations in the Durango area generate $9 million in annual economic activity that supports 309 jobs and generates $645,000 in local and state government revenues. The numbers come from a national economic impact study produced by the nonprofit organization Americans for the Arts. Durango was one of 182 towns, cities and regions across the country that participated in the study.

Though the national survey happens periodically, this is the first time Durango has participated.

“A study like this adds to the credibility of our arts,” said Anne Klein of Durango Area Tourism Office.

Data from the study help reinforce and focus the tourism office’s efforts to market Durango’s arts scene, said Kris Oyler, chairman of DATO’s board of directors and co-founder of Steamworks Brewing Co.

“This is part of the tourism asset we need to keep leveraging,” he said.

Concrete dollar figures also help leverage future grants and sponsorships, said Bob Kunkel, executive director of the Business Improvement District, which helped sponsor the study.

“(An economic impact study) legitimizes claims and gets people’s attention,” Kunkel said. “It opens up people’s eyes to the actual dollar figures, and dollars are most people’s bottom line.”

Durango’s for-profit businesses should pay attention to the arts and culture industry as a source for collaboration, Oyler said. Steamworks, for example, sponsors the annual juried arts show at the Durango Arts Center and the Community Concert Hall.

Audiences that attended shows, concerts and performances also spent $3.2 million on lodging, meals and souvenirs, which directly benefits local businesses.

The study also highlights the job-creation potential of the arts, Robert Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts, said in a news release.

“This study shines a much-needed light on the vital role the arts play in stimulating and sustaining economic development,” Lynch said.

Durango’s nonprofit arts and culture organizations create about the same number of jobs as the city, said Sherri Dugdale, assistant to the city manager.

While Durango’s arts spending is impressive, the numbers show there’s always room to improve, Oyler said.

Durango was dwarfed by tiny Telluride, which rakes in $37 million annually from the arts-and-culture industry.

By comparison, other economic-impact estimations show the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic brings in about $2 million in spending, while Fort Lewis College has an annual economic impact of $108 million annually.

ecowan@durangoherald.com