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Santa Maria Sun / Cover Story

The following article was posted on November 8th, 2012, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 13, Issue 35 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 13, Issue 35

The color of money

A recent national study shows the arts mean business in Santa Barbara County


It’s an old saying, and a popular one: “’Tis better to give than to receive.” When it comes to the arts, many people would probably say they’re more likely to donate to them than to gain any monetary benefit from them.

The show biz:
Mark Booher (center), artistic director of PCPA Theaterfest, talks to employees in the box office. The resident theater company has been producing shows (like West Side Story, pictured here) in Solvang and Santa Maria for almost 50 years. PCPA

However, a new study from the national organization Americans for the Arts shows that the creative, more-right-brained industry has a stronger impact on the economy than many people realize.

According to the study, “Arts & Economic Prosperity IV,” which analyzed data from surveys conducted in 2010 in 182 different regions, the nation’s arts industries generated $135.2 billion of economic activity. That’s $61.1 billion in expenditures by nonprofit arts and cultural organizations, plus $74.1 billion in event-related expenditures by audience members. The study also found that the industry supports millions of full-time jobs and generates billions of dollars in revenue for local, state, and federal governments.

“America’s artists and arts organizations live and work in every community coast-to-coast—fueling creativity, beautifying our cities, and improving our quality of life,” Americans for the Arts president and CEO Robert L. Lynch said in his introduction to the study. “In my travels across the country, business and government leaders often talk to me about the challenges of funding the arts amid shrinking resources and alongside other pressing needs. They worry about jobs and the economy.

“Is their region a magnet for attracting and retaining a skilled and innovative workforce? How well are they competing in the high-stakes race to attract new businesses?”

The findings from the study, he said, “send a clear and welcome message: Leaders who care about community and economic vitality can feel good about choosing to invest in the arts.”

Surveys for the study conducted in Santa Barbara County found that the arts is a $124-million industry supporting nearly 3,600 full-time jobs and generating roughly $11.7 million in local and state revenue.

The fact that the arts make money is something industry insiders have known for years. Ginny Brush, executive director of the Santa Barbara County Arts Commission, said she and her organization have been trying to get the word out for years. Having a nationally recognized study with solid numbers, she said, will help further their cause, especially when talking to local officials and applying for grants.

“I think people have a preconceived notion of what nonprofits are—especially those in the arts and culture sector—and they don’t think of them as being business related, but that’s not true,” Brush said.

“No. 1: The industry is a pretty good employer, and all of the jobs are local; they can’t be shifted overseas,” she explained. “No. 2: All of the services and almost all of the expenditures stay local, whether theaters are buying lumber or paint for sets, or someone’s hiring a babysitter to go out and see a play and going out to eat before or after the show.”

The arts also have added benefits that can’t be quantified based on numbers or bank accounts.

“You can say that the arts are frail or not significant, but they’re pretty resilient, and they play a very significant role in the community and people’s quality of life,” Brush said. “The arts are the soul of a community; they’re what makes you unique, and what makes life livable.”

Dollars and sets

At a recent meeting of the Santa Maria Arts Council, Mark Booher, the artistic director for PCPA, spoke about the state of the arts in today’s fragile economy.

Buying local:
Allan Hancock College fine arts professors John Hood (far right) and Arnold Johnson (far left) are helping young artists like Arthur Garcia (center) launch their careers. Garcia created street art paintings with removable T-shirts, which he’s currently selling.

“Has the landscape for support of the arts changed much since the major economic changes that created this ‘new normal’ beginning in 2008?” Booher asked. “Is it harder or easier to sell a concert ticket or a painting when gas is approaching $5 a gallon?”

He said that if forced to choose between skipping a meal or skipping a play or a concert, he’d be likely to skip the meal. But he acknowledged that that isn’t typically the choice for most people.

“It’s not difficult to find news about arts programs being cut from schools and school systems, [and] arts funding being cut completely out of the budgets of local municipalities, regional, and state agencies,” he continued.

In a follow-up interview with the Sun, Booher explained it this way: “Our money shows what we value as a culture.”

Seeing arts programs get cut from school and city budgets can be disheartening, especially for those who believes the medium is an important part of life. Studies like “Arts and Economic Prosperity” give those individuals hope that the arts are valued by society, even when pocketbooks are hurting.

Booher said PCPA, which has theaters in Santa Maria and Solvang, generates anywhere from $1.3 million to $1.5 million annually in ticket sales.

“And that’s just one piece of the operating budget, which is about $4.2 million,” he said. “Except for royalties and some materials that have to be purchased out of the area, our funds are spent locally. About 80 percent of that budget goes to pay the salaries of our employees, who have to pay taxes, rent, and buy groceries. And then there’s what we spend on fabric, lumber, and other supplies.”

Unlike a touring show that plays for one night at the local performing arts center, PCPA’s shows are part of a resident theater season. So the shows pump a lot more money into the local economy by generating ticket sales and drawing employees.

Booher said it’s good to have a study that quantifies the financial benefit of the arts, but he doesn’t want people to forget about “the impact they have on the individual human spirit.”

“The impact the arts have on imagination, ingenuity, creativity, emotional resilience, and poignancy—that’s not easily measured,” he said. “But it’s what makes life survivable ... and enjoyable and fruitful.

Welcome to Mural land:
Lompoc’s murals add character to the downtown area and help make the shopping experience more enjoyable.

Art defines how we connect with other human beings, he said. “Without that, dollars don’t mean much.”

His goal—and the goal of practically all professional artists—is to make art that’s worth spending money on.

“The art has to speak for itself; it has to be its own advocate,” he said. “If it’s not its own advocate, maybe it’s not worth advocating for.”

Giving the community  character

Even art forms that don’t come with a ticket price can have a positive impact on the community, both economically and mentally.

 “Art improves morale, and it creates an attachment to past accomplishment,” the arts commission’s Brush said. “Think what Lompoc would be like in terms of character if you took all of its murals away.”

The murals, Brush said, brighten the city’s downtown area and “make the shopping experience more enjoyable.”

“Trends are changing; more people are shopping online,” she said. “If they’re going to shop at storefronts, they need something more, like the [Lompoc] murals or someone playing music on the street or art galleries to drop into.”

Many of the buildings in Lompoc have life-sized murals painted on their walls that display components of the city’s lush history. The city started the murals as a revitalization project in the early 1990s under the leadership of the Lompoc Mural Society. The city’s first mural was painted in 1991 and pays homage to the Chumash people.

Lompoc Mural Society project administrator Vicki Andersen said public support for the murals was a bit “wishy-washy” at first, but that the art has since grown in popularity.

“People tell me all the time, ‘When I have company in from out of town, boy, I take them down to see the murals,’” Andersen said. “The day I knew we were finally starting to make an impact was when I ran into a group of people who came up from Santa Barbara to see the murals. People from Santa Barbara think Lompoc is Brigadoon.”

Local residents aren’t the only ones who appreciate the murals, either.

“I get a lot of phone calls and e-mails from people outside of California who are interested in starting their own mural projects. We’re happy to let them pick our brains,” society chairperson Ann Thompson said.

Many people will visit the city to tour the murals and to learn about successfully implementing a project like that in their hometowns.

Ken Ostini, president and CEO of the Lompoc Chamber of Commerce, said he likes to talk up the murals to the people he meets at business functions.

“When we promote our area, of course our biggest attraction is the wine industry ... but the murals are a huge draw, too,” Ostini said.

He said he just recently went to a meeting in Santa Barbara at which there were many professionals from the arts and tourism industries.

“We were talking about the benefits of giving money to [arts] organizations because it gets returned to the local economy and community,” he said, adding that chamber employees have worked to develop good relationships with organizations like the mural society and the Lompoc Civic Theatre because “we see the value of what they do in the community.”

Put your money where your art is

PCPA’s Booher said, when it comes to live theater, showing one’s support is “all about being in the theater.”

“It’s not just about sitting in a meeting and saying, ‘We value the theater,’” he said. “There are a number of people in city government who have been a great support because I see them at the theater.”

But he also said it has taken time to get people to view the arts as an asset. He believes Santa Maria has a bit of a “self-esteem issue” that can be augmented by some of the attitudes in city leadership.

“There’s this thought that Santa Maria is this blue-collar, agrarian, red-neck town, and residents don’t have a place in their hearts or minds for more refined things,” Booher explained. “But I think that’s an unfair misrepresentation.”

Yes, Northern Santa Barbara County’s economy is fueled by farming and the wine industry, and, yes, its residents might not make as much as people living in Santa Barbara—but that doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy the arts.

“But Santa Maria is also a community that has supported a regional theater for five decades,” Booher said. “A lot of small, agrarian communities can’t boast that.”

He said much has changed in Santa Maria over the last 15 years.

“We’re now the biggest city in the county, and we’re a politically powerful part of the county,” he said. “We have to let our attitudes catch up with reality.”

People like Booher and Allan Hancock College arts professor John Hood are trying to help people see the artistic and cultural opportunities available to them in North County.

“We tend to be the city’s artistic epicenter,” Hood said of the Allan Hancock College campus.

Hood, who is also a county arts commissioner, helped conduct the survey used in “Arts and Economic Prosperity IV.” He polled people at well-established institutions, like PCPA, and at newer places like the Betteravia Gallery and the gallery at Shepard Hall in the Santa Maria Public Library.

“A lot of these galleries have a show every month, and they’re bringing in 60 to 100 people,” Hood said. “I was at one reception at the Betteravia Gallery that had 160 people.”

While many of these events are free, he said, the attendees are still spending money on dinner, parking, and other expenses.

Hood also admitted that people’s attitudes toward the arts in North County have “definitely been sluggish,” but that he’s seeing improvement.

Hood has partnered with other community members to help local artists launch exhibits of their work. Earlier this month, he and fellow arts professor Arnold Johnson helped student Arthur Garcia create a street art project.

Garcia folded T-shirts into squares, mounted them on boards, and then tagged them with spray paint to create murals, which are currently hanging in the lobby of the fine arts building on the Hancock campus. Garcia is also developing a business plan to sell the shirts once the exhibit is over.

Hood and his artistic peers are organizing similar projects in the greater community as well.

Last month, the Orcutt Children’s Arts Foundation held a chalk festival in Old Town Orcutt.

“We raised $4,500 doing that,” said Hood, who serves on the foundation’s board. “That was something we just took a chance on, and the local officials could see it was worth it.”

He’d like to see more North County officials take chances on the arts, especially since they’re proven to return a profit.

 “I’d like to see us catering to the film industry, which I know Ventura does,” he said. “Why not here?”

Santa Maria’s Café FX, an award-winning visual effects studio, closed its door a few years ago after struggling to compete in the international market. The company proved real-world experience to dozens of Hancock arts students.

“There is a lot of competition from other countries because they can do exactly what we’re doing for cheaper, just like with [the energy industry],” Hood said. “But we’ll always have an edge on the amount of people who have a thirst for creating. There are lots of arts students. We just need more opportunities for them.

“What we should definitely do is partner with chambers of commerce and local businesses to see who’s interested in coming in and opening shop,” he said.

Contact Managing Editor Amy Asman at

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