Published in Nonprofits

Report: Arts and cultural nonprofits serve as economic engines for Michigan

BY Friday, April 01, 2016 12:36am

When it comes to statewide budgeting, arts and cultural organizations often are considered a luxury and not a necessity.

However, according to data compiled by Creative Many Michigan Inc. — a Detroit-based statewide nonprofit organization that works to develop a creative economy through research, advocacy and communication — arts and cultural organizations are pivotal to economic growth in the state.

“There is finite dollars out there, and with budgets being slashed, unfortunately lawmakers and other decision makers see arts and culture as a nice thing to have but not a necessity,” said Sarah Triplett, director of public policy at Creative Many.

“This shows the strengths they have and the economic impact side of things,” she said, referring to Creative State Michigan: The 2016 Nonprofit Report, which was released in March. “It really has opened eyes and provides a tool to begin conversations around many different things.”

The 2016 Nonprofit Report outlined the economic impact made by arts and cultural nonprofit organizations. It pulled 2013 fiscal year data from 406 nonprofit arts and cultural organizations throughout Michigan, which represented 16 percent of the more than 2,000 groups that operate statewide. 

The findings showed significant economic impact in the form of direct expenditures, job creation, filling voids left by the public education system and even tourism.

“We’re talking to lawmakers but we’re also providing (the report) to organizations across the state to use for when they write grants or they’ll use it to talk to community members or open the door to have conversations with the local chamber of commerce that maybe didn’t understand the information before,” Triplett said of how Creative Many uses the report as a tool. “It can be used to develop new partnerships.”


The latest report marked the fifth year Creative Many analyzed the data. Along the way, the group has noticed a consistent increase in each of the primary categories it tracks, beginning with direct expenditures, which eclipsed $610 million in 2013. That was a $15 million increase from the year before.

The more than $610 million stood as 16 percent of all expenditures made by the nonprofit sector that year. The majority of those expenditures were spent on programs (70 percent) and general operations (23 percent).

As far as job opportunities, the report outlined that $208 million was devoted to the salaries of people in 25,490 jobs. However, Triplett pointed to another metric that highlighted the value of arts and culture within local communities.

“I think something of interest that we haven’t done as much in previous years is talk about the overall jobs and the people who are contributing to these organizations — those who are paid and unpaid,” said Triplett, referring to the portion of the report that noted 92,000 people were employed in arts and culture organizations in 2013. 

“Whether that’s paid or unpaid, they are spending their time serving on a board or as a full-time employee or volunteer — they find these organizations worthwhile and important. And, that’s just these 400-plus organizations.”

In terms of tourism, arts and cultural destinations in Michigan generated $2.8 billion in revenue during 2013, which is 20 percent of the state’s total tourism revenue in that year. That figure was at $387 million the year before. 


John Bracey, executive director of the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs (MCACA), knows firsthand the impact that arts and culture can have on a community beyond just money.

Through grants, the 15-member, Governor-appointed MCACA will be providing funding that will land in 76 of Michigan’s 83 counties this year. A significant amount of that money will go to small communities to help them “make it the best place it can be,” according to Bracey, whose MCACA receives appropriations of $9.7 million and has seen an uptick in grant applications over the years.

“There is no doubt that what (the report) does, in my opinion, is shows that if you’re going to have an overall strategy for growth and quality of life in urban and rural settings and you don’t include arts and culture, you’re missing a huge opportunity,” Bracey said. “Any effort you make will probably be less than successful. I think that this sort of data shows clearly that we’re part of a very big picture. If you don’t take in the whole picture, you’re missing out.” 

Bracey used Ironwood, Mich. as an example of how art and culture can fuel a small community. 

The Upper Peninsula town, located near the Wisconsin border, used funds from MCACA to build the Downtown Art Place art center to complement the existing Historic Ironwood Theatre. The destinations brought activity to the downtown area that have sparked new business creation and development. 

Bracey said that when it comes to art and culture, MCACA puts an emphasis on giving a community accessibility to artistic outlets instead of searching for the next Picasso. This was illustrated in the assistance MCACA gave to building an accessible bathroom in Ironwood between the two popular arts destinations.

“Our programs are not sexy programs,” Bracey said. “They provide operational support. We provide dollars for capital improvements. We’re filling in the gaps on things that foundations might not necessarily look at.” 

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