Sacramento County trails in many categories in a national study that seeks to quantify the economic impact that nonprofit arts organizations have on their communities.
Conducted every five years by the Washington-based arts advocacy organization Americans for the Arts, the study "Arts and Economic Prosperity" looks at spending by arts nonprofits and audiences. For the most recent study, covering fiscal year 2010-11, Americans for the Arts surveyed and gathered information from 182 communities in all 50 states.
Sacramento County was included for the first time, with 111 of 268 eligible arts nonprofits participating and 1,456 audience surveys conducted.
The survey found that the region trails other areas of similar size such as Portland, Ore., and Indianapolis in the amount of dollars its arts organizations spend, as well as the full-time-equivalent jobs that such spending creates.
It found that in 2010-11 Sacramento County arts organizations pumped $82 million into the local economy. Audiences that attended their events added $29.9 million more, excluding ticket purchases, which are considered as part of the arts organization budgets.
And it was estimated that spending by arts nonprofits and audiences resulted in the creation of 4,441 full-time-equivalent local jobs.
The study also found that 71.8 percent of event attendees in Sacramento County are locals. The 28.2 percent of arts event attendees who came from out of the area spent an average of $26 per person per event, pumping $11 million into the local economy.
"These studies help us understand that an investment in the arts is not a black hole," said Randy Cohen, vice president of research and policy at Americans for the Arts.
"Those dollars? They don't just disappear. They provide a cultural and economic benefit, so the survey helps us see that arts organizations are businesses, too," Cohen said.
Although the survey shows Sacramento trailing in many categories, some in the arts community see it as providing invaluable insight. Shelly Willis, interim director of the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission, said it shows that arts organizations are a vital part of the community's economic fabric.
"My goal is to change the perception of what people may think the arts are capable of doing that we really are not only part of but integral to the economy," said Willis. "In the long run I want to use the data to help us create a cultural plan that makes sense."
While she lauded the study, Willis said its results may have skewed lower because it measured a period when the Crocker Art Museum was closed for expansion.
Nonetheless, some see the study results as an accurate picture of an arts community that needs to mature.
"My impression of the survey is that Sacramento, for the size of the community it is, and as a state capital, could do a lot better," said Jane Hill, interim executive director of the Sacramento Philharmonic.
Hill feels the study offers a good starting point for helping Sacramento gauge its arts community.
"It's good to have data where you can compare us to other cities," Hill said. "Mayor (Kevin) Johnson is always trying to compare us to Portland and Indianapolis and now you can look at the results of the study in those regions. And if those are the cities that we want to be like, we can now look at what is different about our data."
What is different according to the study is that Sacramento's arts organizations pumped only about half as much money into the local economy as organizations in Indianapolis and Portland.
Sacramento also trailed in the creation of jobs. In Indianapolis, a city of roughly 820,000, the study found that 13,136 full-time-equivalent jobs were created, nearly three times as many as in Sacramento County, with a population of about 1.4 million. Arts expenditures in greater Portland, which has 1.6 million people, created 8,529 jobs, nearly twice as many as locally.
Sacramento County also trailed both cities in attendance, with 1.7 million in arts event attendees in 2010-11. Portland had 4.6 million and Indianapolis 6.7 million.
Cohen believes the Americans for the Arts study shows governments that subsidizing arts organizations can provide real economic benefits.
But not everyone feels that such studies provide an accurate picture of what the arts really provide a community, or whether any given arts community is deserving of public funding.
"A lot depends on the quality of the data that goes into this and there is little information about that," said Robert Flanagan, professor emeritus of economics at Stanford University.
"What these studies do not get into is the question of what would the economic benefit be if government was spending money in some different way," said Flanagan.
Nonetheless, he thinks the data can be a boon to arts communities and provide an illuminating and rare glimpse into arts-generated economic activity.
"From a marketing point of view the study makes the point that the value of the arts is broader than the group of people that happened to attend its events and that is what the people that put these studies together are trying to do," he said.
Flanagan, who recently completed a study of the economic issues facing symphony orchestras, said that it is easy for people to view arts organizations as elitist and be skeptical of using government funds to subsidize them.
"This study shows that the presence of arts institutions has a positive effect on a lot of other businesses," he said. Some of those businesses and their customers, "might have no direct interest in something like classical music at all."
Call The Bee's Edward Ortiz, (916) 321-1071. Follow him on Twitter @edwardortiz.