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Roundtable: Economy of the Arts

Posted: July 23, 2013 3:00 p.m.
Updated: July 23, 2013 3:00 p.m.

Steven Lavine, president, California Institute of the Arts

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A study published in 2012 examined the economic impact of Santa Clarita’s arts community on the local economy.

Over the past decade, Santa Clarita residents, organizations and city representatives have made a conscious, planned effort to ramp up the local arts and culture scene, to drive quality of life, economic activity and cultural tourism.

Santa Clarita nonprofit arts and culture organizations and their audiences spent a total of $11.4 million locally. The same group supported more than 300 jobs and generated $9.6 million in household income to local residents. More than $1 million was generated in local and state government revenue, as well, according to the study.

We spoke with Bob Kellar, mayor of Santa Clarita, Steven Lavine, president of California Institute of the Arts and Evy Warshawski, director of the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center at College of the Canyons.

How do the arts contribute to the economy?

STEVEN LAVINE: If you take the arts as a whole, it’s the fourth largest industry cluster in the state, employing something over 600,000 people in the state, generating about $3 billion in state taxes during the course of the year and producing an economic output of over $230 billion per year.

The challenge is to think broadly about the arts. Every time you’re creating a web page, you’re using design skills, so we all live in the midst of the arts skills every day.

We know it here because we have the Disney studios and movie ranches, and that all generates behind-the-scenes jobs that are not the obvious ones: the actors, actresses and people holding the cameras.

BOB KELLAR: The Santa Clarita Arts Commission did a study in 2012 that showed the results of the culture and the arts industry in the area. They came up with a figure of $11.4 million annually invested in our local economy as a result of the arts, and they support in excess of 300 jobs.

LAVINE: On top of that, my guess is that the city doesn’t recognize that Santa Clarita probably has per capita the largest arts population in the United States. Start with the fact that we feed the animation industries, which are primarily in Burbank and Glendale. Add the employees that have probably gone to school here, and consider that people end up staying here and commuting to work in the morning. I think the city has not quite grasped the wealth that’s in its midst.

KELLAR: I think that statements a fair one. We created the Arts Commission in 2009 with the full support of the City Council. Each year, I see a measurable increase of the arts in the Santa Clarita Valley: the opportunities, circumstances, projects and programs that our Arts Commission is involved with. One of the key mission points for the Arts Commission is to unify all the artists, arts and art forms that we have in the city. We’re doing better and better, and I think or future is very bright.

EVY WARSHAWSKI: There is not a day that goes by where money is not transacted at the PAC with vendors, ticket-buyers. We’re generating a lot, yet we’re also very entrepreneurial — we have to balance budgets.

KELLAR: One of our goals is, recognizing that, as (Evy has) indicated, some tremendous talent in our community, is trying to create a program of only local talent at the Performing Arts Center, where we select some of our finest artists, with the criteria that they have to live here in Santa Clarita, and have one or two special performances, and I really believe they would be a huge success.

Is there a way in which CalArts can partner with the city in an advisory role?

LAVINE: I think we probably could. Part of the fault is on us and the artists themselves — we don’t think about the overall picture; we’re busy making sure that our own organizations stay active and solvent. I get a privileged look because I can see all the contracts and see where everyone lives.

There’s two sets of artists: those who practice in the community and those who bring good salaries back to the community and spend it here.

How many students who graduate are entrepreneurs?

LAVINE: I’d estimate that between 30- to 40 percent of our graduates start their own for-profit or nonprofit. That could even include setting up shop as a film editor and hiring yourself out, which may not be anybody’s idea of a business, but you still have to handle yourself as a business.

I think the ones that go into the entertainment industry, a very significant percentage, end up staying here.

Seattle set out to chart which jobs lay between musician and consumer. These jobs include: someone generating sheet music, someone’s actually writing the music, someone writing the lyrics, someone playing the instrument, someone making the instrument, someone selling the instrument, someone’s selling the mics and the cables, someone providing the mixers and amps, and someone providing instruction for those musicians.

Then there are agents and lawyers and labels and promoters, music-support organizations, studios, recording devices, ticketings, lighting and stage design — it just goes on and on. It shows about 100 jobs between where the musician starts and the consumer hears the music.

KELLAR: And then you have Disney Ranch coming here with their nine studios, and needless to say, that’s going to add a lot of new residents.

Is the data on salaries skewed at all?

LAVINE: I don’t think the data that’s gathered is very accurate. There are people who are in identifiable industries, whose data is collected. Then there’s a huge percentage of artists who work essentially as independent contractors, so it’s very hard to figure out how to collect their data.

If you’re a designer who has converted your garage to create a studio for your startup, it becomes very difficult to determine what the starting salary is. But the vision of the starving artist, and I do know a few who are struggling, is kind of a romantic notion of the 19th century.

Describe the trickle-down effect of every ticket sale.

WARSHAWSKI: Well when they buy a ticket, they’re probably also going to get a glass of wine. They’ve driven over and bought gas on the way. They probably went out to dinner, and they may go out for dessert afterward. They might buy a CD. They might have to hire a babysitter. And what you’re seeing is a very small part of what goes on around the show, including backstage, getting ready for the artist and the facility itself.

KELLAR: When we’re talking about the impact of the arts in Santa Clarita, it’s important to remember that the city’s economic development corporation, in just three short years of existence, has done a phenomenal job. One of the primary industries that’s being sought and recognized as a leading factor in this community is the film and the arts. Significant outreach programs are in place to draw upon and capture the arts here in Santa Clarita. It’s a well-paying industry — it’s a big draw industry. It’s a quality-of-life industry that brings much enjoyment for our citizens. And certainly it’s something to be shared with our children.

When you look at the arts and our children, they have hard numbers that show that children who are involved with the arts do better academically than children who are not participating at all.

These are all significant reasons why it’s important that we work closely with COC, CalArts and many of the organizations, clubs and theaters across the board.

We are fast becoming known as Hollywood North. Despite the fact that the state is not managing the film industry very well, Santa Clarita is produces more and more filming days each year. These film companies are spending millions of dollars in this community every year by filming.

LAVINE: Right now, the city of Santa Monica is trying to lure us into building a media center there, and they’re trying to do it with a map of all the high-tech and film companies that have located to the area. I don’t think most of us know the full range of what’s here. To come up with a map would be really useful.

KELLAR: The city created a filming overlay zone that identifies certain areas. Filming studios include: Blue Cloud, Santa Clarita Studios and, what’s going to be the end-all, Disney Studios, which are certainly going to be built to 21st Century standards. So you’ve certainly got a bright future here in the Santa Clarita Valley.

The city also streamlines the permitting process. All of this is working very cooperatively out here, and it’s the reason we’ve been able to enjoy the filming industry the way we have.

According to a study on the economic impact of arts in Santa Clarita, people who come from the outside for art events tend to spend 52 percent more than residents. Would arts-business packages help stimulate revenue?

KELLAR: That could be done in a myriad ways. Our major hotels have come together, and have a tourism tax that they have put into place. Collectively, that money is available to the city to do outreach programs and let people know Santa Clarita exists. It is working; it gets the information out there, and we’re benefitting.

Based on a broader definition of the arts, does the city have an estimate for how much money is contributed to the local economy?

KELLAR: I’d be hard-pressed to find an exact figure. But there are so many events... Look at our Concerts in the Park that we put on each year. You’re talking about thousands of people. You can’t park blocks away. The community loves this stuff.

LAVINE: We see our version of that, ever since we opened The Wild Beast (concert series). About 500 people show up for an outdoor concert, and it takes a little subsidy because we do it for free. I’m sure a huge percentage of those people are either buying stuff locally, or they’re eating out.

Also if you look at what aspects of the American economy are still internationally competitive, it is the sort of higher-level education industries: tech, biotech and digital arts world. One of the edges the United States has over the rest of the world is freedom. Our artists have that, although artists in other places don’t.

I would say about every two weeks, we have a Chinese university come to us, asking us to build something on their campus. Why are we so much more successful in being able to create the product? It’s not that they can’t turn out the technicians; it’s the artists that they have difficulty turning out — artists who can speak to the whole world. That’s the advantage to American popular culture — it really crosses borders.

The arts not only contribute economically, but so many artists are involved in charitable causes. Describe that domino effect.

WARSHAWKSI: It has to do with training them when they are small. (Arts education) isn’t going to work if it’s just plopped on you. The whole K-12 movement is so important. It was missing for a huge chunk of time when the economy went sour and budgets were getting cut. K-12 arts education is so, so important because creativity has to be developed and nurtured. It doesn’t just happen. If it did, none of us would get jobs. We’d all be creative souls.

LAVINE: Along those lines, Singapore approached us about building a campus there 20 years ago. It’s the fourth largest financial center in the world, but it’s this little place — there’s no water even, and they import their water from Malaysia. But they’ve recognized that not everyone can be in the world of finance, so they have to somehow break into the creative industry. We told them there’s no point in building a campus in a country where they don’t teach arts in the schools because the campus would have to recruit students internationally to come to Singapore. Why would we do that when can recruit them to come to the Valencia campus?

Singapore, being a deliberate, forward-thinking government, sought the best advice they could in the world. They went to Harvard Project Zero on learning styles, they came to us on interdisciplinary. They built probably the best arts high school in Asia, and now we’re talking with them about the things they could do. Now their young people are educated. The schools are where it starts, and we could actually do more with that in Santa Clarita to make a real difference, though we’ve got good schools here already.

KELLAR: To my understanding, some of the arts programs were taken away with the financial crunch we had to withstand. Some of our financial difficulties are hopefully starting to dissipate, and some of the schools’ arts programs are starting to come back. The schools do a great job with what they have and really work hard to offer what they can.

WARSHAWSKI: Parent groups provide money for arts programs to come into the schools, as well.

LAVINE: West Creek Academy had always dreamt of a music-infused curriculum. They went to Newhall Land, and they put up the money to get a program started. We are now teaching music to every K-3 student in the school. And it’s great for our kids to be testing their skills on young people. There’s a potential to do even more.

Everyone knows the arts is a big multiplier, but for every organization, those first dollars are very hard. It’s harder even in California because our state arts council is either 49th or 50th in the country in terms of how little they put in per capita to the arts. The city of Los Angeles is miniscule except for hotel tax.

When I think how a little bit of money would ferment more activity, it’s a potentially highly leveraged activity. I’m not asking the city to take over support of it, but if an organization could get 10 percent of their budget covered, what they could build on top of that would be extraordinary. It’s one of the huge challenges in the arts.

If schools like CalArts, which is internationally recognized, collaborate with local arts groups, could it help grow the industry and create jobs for CalArts students?

LAVINE: There are a couple of cities in the U.S. that have grown their arts industries in exemplary ways. Minneapolis has terrible weather, but the city has created centers for each of the arts, bringing focus to the community for a tiny bit of the money — probably less than 10 percent. The banks and businesses lead by Dayton’s (a department store) raise about 30 percent or more of it, and the rest comes from national funders. And they have built this amazing arts world, so people choose to go to Minneapolis. I’m from that part of the world — you wouldn’t choose to go there unless it was so advantageous to work in that environment, something that gave you an edge.

Seattle recognized that they had this world of garage bands that had become national. They made themselves a city of music. Again, the city took the leadership, and it created a little framework and infrastructure that multiplied and multiplied. They got rock bands into the parks because that was the stuff that was getting to the national circuit. They decided to present it locally to give a boost to their arts industry. Bands end up staying in Seattle to live, even though they tour away from there.

San Jose has recognized that technology alone won’t carry the day. You’ve got to keep artists there because it’s a meeting place for design and technology. It’s so expensive to live there that a lot of artists are driven away. The city led the effort, though they didn’t put in a lot of money in the end. Now they do festivals of art and technology for about four months a year. They just keep pumping it up. Other artists come to see what’s going on, and it just keeps getting bigger.

WARSHAWSKI: In Santa Clarita, we have downtown Newhall that’s been revitalized.

KELLAR: I don’t believe the taxpayer would be really thrilled to see the city literally underwriting any specific program. But they are very receptive to the city giving the kind of support and seed money to the arts that we have been in recent years. The city is behind the scenes of creating the Santa Clarita Arts Commission, working with our arts partners in town. It’s working out well. We’re still relatively new at it — we’re still only a 25-year-old city. So I think in our short time, we’ve been able to accomplish a tremendous amount with the arts — and it’s only going to get better.

Is there enough inexpensive land for further development of the arts in Santa Clarita?

KELLAR: The easy stuff is built on first. This is not a flat desert as our friends to the north. But there is still a lot of land that can be developed.

LAVINE: I think a way the city could also add stimulus is by helping sustain space for an incubator.

JANA ADKINS: That’s been a common subject of discussion. I’ve talked to a number of angel investors, some that live in Sand Canyon, Acton, Agua Dulce and other places in Santa Clarita. They are traveling down to Pasadena and over to Santa Monica. They are watching this community very closely. They say the talent is here, but they need to see it surface. They want to invest here and work where they live.

LAVINE: We have a relatively new CFO who’s finishing his first year, Donald Matthewson. He really wants to see CalArts get involved with an incubator. He’s thinking about in terms of angel investors coming to the school. Two years after our kids leave, we have to compete with anyone else to buy their product. So if we can invest in their product before they leave, it can help them get to where they want to go. I think next year we’d like to launch some version of this.

You have to connect the idea with business, manufacturing and engineering expertise.

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