Arts in Durango a money-maker, not money-taker

Communities that support arts and culture not only enhance their quality of life, they also invest in their economic well-being.

Following up on Sunday’s Durango Herald article (“Who said art doesn’t pay?”), I would like to elaborate on the study produced by the nonprofit organization Americans for the Arts. Durango nonprofit arts and culture organizations generate $9 million in annual economic activity, support 309 jobs and generate $645,000 in local and state governments.

This amount was determined by surveys conducted by 15 of the about 22 eligible Durango nonprofit arts and culture organizations for an overall participation rate of 68 percent. The organizations who participated in the survey are:

3rd Avenue Arts; Center for Southwest Studies; City of Durango – Public Arts Commission; Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College; Del Alma; Durango Arts Center (under former Executive Director Sheri Rochford Figgs); Durango Chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Chorus; Durango Discovery Museum; Durango Film Institute (Durango Independent Film Festival); Durango Heritage Celebration; Durango Lively Arts Company; Fort Lewis College Department of Theatre Performance; La Plata County Historical Society (Animas Museum); Music in the Mountains; and San Juan Symphony.

As recently hired executive director at DAC, I offer some statistics specific to the Center’s economic impact. In 2011, DAC welcomed more than 30,000 visitors. Many were nonresidents, indicating that they came to Durango for specific attractions and while here, spent money on restaurants, shopping and lodging.

Sunday’s article stated that Durango gained $3.2 million in 2011 from audiences attending shows, concerts and performances. When the Arts Center hosted the “Textiles Today: Redefining the Medium” exhibit in April, we welcomed visitors from the Front Range and beyond who came to Durango specifically to see our exhibit showcasing the work of nationally and internationally known textile artists.

In 2010-2011 the Arts Center paid more than $50,000 in commissions to artists, and another $17,000 in commissions to artists who participated in the Winter Solstice Market, an all-time record for any single exhibit. That’s a tangible impact, and it’s not escaping the notice of city officials here and elsewhere. Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter summed it up thusly:

“Mayors understand the connection between the arts industry and city revenues. Arts activities create thousands of direct and indirect jobs and generate billions in government and business revenues. The arts also make our cities destinations for tourists, help attract and retain businesses, and play an important role in the economic revitalization of cities and the vibrancy of our neighborhoods.”

Clearly the arts are good for Durango. Please support all of our cultural, science and arts organizations by becoming a member, attending performances, visiting exhibits, signing up for classes and attending special events. We are fortunate to live in a community with so many rich and diverse opportunities.

Peggy Zemach is the executive director of the Durango Arts Center. Reach her at