Don’t underestimate the economic impact of the arts


Gateway Arch photo by Brittany Moore/Pexels

Nancy Kranzberg, Special to the Jewish Light

Someone once said, “The arts nourish the soul.” I believe this strongly. Most would agree that the arts are important to a vibrant and creative community, but they still see artists and the arts as fluff or icing on the cake. The arts, actually, are a force.

The arts can promote social change for the good, allow one to express and react to their world, and the arts can make a strong economic impact.

The arts industry is often marginalized related to its economic contributions. In total, the arts attracted more people and more money than St Louis professional sports teams combined, according to a study by the Regional Arts Commission (RAC) of our city.

In another study from a few years ago done by RAC, the St. Louis Business Journal reports that the arts mean business. A study conducted by RAC in partnership with Americans for the Arts revealed that the arts have an economic impact in St. Louis of $582 million and account for more than 10,000 jobs. Studies such as this have been made in cities all over the country and have had the same results.

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Arts boards are always searching for corporate monetary help. Many corporations both local and national have been quite generous, but the arts themselves are a business that impacts our city.

For more of Nancy Kranzberg’s commentary, listen to KWMU (90.7) St. Louis on the Air the first Friday of each month at approximately 12:50 p.m. She also hosts a weekly Arts Interview podcast for KDHX (88.1), available at

Think about audiences. One might go to dinner and a show whether it is a play, a dance concert, a poetry reading, a symphony performance, etc. Attendance at these types of events generate income for local businesses — restaurants, parking garages, hotels, retail stores and more. According to yet another study, an average arts attendee spends $24.60 per event, not including the cost of admission. On the national level, these audiences provided $74.l billion of valuable revenue for local merchants and their communities.

Of course, the pandemic has wreaked havoc on the entire arts industry. The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) recently published new facts and figures showing the devastation that has taken place in the arts. Breaking it down, for musicians in 2019, the unemployment rate was 1.1%, representing 3,000 professionals.

In the third quarter of 2020, the rate rose to 27.1% and 56,000 professionals. Among actors in 2019, the unemployment rate was 24.7%, representing 11,000 professionals. In the third quarter of 2020, the rate rose to 52.3% and 28,000 professionals. And dancers and choreographers in 2019 had an unemployment rate of 10.7% or 3,000 professionals. In the third quarter of 2020, the rate rose to 54.6% and 8,000 professionals.

The NEA has put together numerous programs to help arts and artists get back on their feet and finally things are beginning to improve.

I am proud to be a part of the Kranzberg Arts Foundation (KAF). Chris Hansen, executive director of the foundation, and my husband Ken Kranzberg reminded me that KAF has a unique vision. It provides infrastructure and training for artists and arts organizations to operate in a professional manner and state-of-the-art facilities.

The arts are one of St. Louis’ greatest assets.