Report: Arts, culture generate $1.6B for Greater Cincy economy

Findings in a new report indicate the arts and culture sector had a total economic impact of $1.6 billion on Greater Cincinnati’s economy over the past four years, affecting areas such as job creation, tourism and professional opportunities for underrepresented communities. 

However, a group of local arts and economic experts cautioned that those numbers are at a risk of declining in the years ahead if the region doesn’t increase the number of donors and arts-backers. The study specifically mentions the importance of upping the amount of giving through the annual ArtsWave fundraising campaign.

The Cincinnati Regional Chamber outlined these realities in its new study reviewing data from 2019 to 2023. Leaders from the Chamber presented the findings during a press conference on Tuesday morning. Joining them were ArtsWave President and CEO Alecia Kintner, Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval, Hamilton County Commissioner Denise Driehaus and more than 200 leaders representing the arts and business communities.

Since 2019, the average annual impact came in at nearly $396 million. The figure peaked in 2022 at more than $488 million, an increase of more than $78 million compared to 2019 and a one-year increase of nearly $150 million more than the low in 2021 because of the pandemic.

For 2022, the figure incorporates business sales revenue through direct expenditures of arts and culture organizations as well as ancillary sales created by that spending. Arts spending in 2022 alone created or supported 6,518 jobs, leading to $15.7 million in taxes and $202 million-plus in employee earnings, per the report.

The Chamber – which operates BLINK – didn’t include the art and light festival in its economic impact calculations for this study.

“Intuitively our team knew that the impact was large,” said Brandon Rudd, director of the Chamber’s Center for Research & Data, “but after doing this study, we now know for sure that ArtsWave and a vibrant arts sector are vital to the Cincinnati region’s economy.”

Investing in the arts is paying off

The region’s arts and culture organizations range in size from those major players such as the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and the Taft Museum of Art to smaller, more intimate economic drivers such as independent galleries and the Cincinnati Fringe Festival.

Beyond investments in one-off shows and events, the report credits much of the economic stimulus as coming from tens of millions of dollars in capital investments in the venues and arts facilities. Recent examples are the construction of the Andrew J. Brady Music Center, ArtsWorks’ new Walnut Hills headquarters, renovations to OTR’s historic Emery Theater and the building of an updated home for Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park in Mt. Adams. The Playhouse served as the site of Tuesday’s press conference.

As an indicator of Greater Cincinnati’s recent commitment to the arts, the region last year rose to No. 11 on a list of the 20 most arts-vibrant large communities in the United States. The ranking from SMU DataArts’ eighth Arts Vibrancy Index is made even more impressive when considering the region is only the 28th-most populous metro area in the country, Kintner said.

Rendering: The audience looks at a performance on the stage of a remodeled Emery Theater.
A rendering of the new-look Emery Theater

Through 2023, the local arts sector had a 1.48 industry location quotient, meaning it has 48% more jobs in the arts world than would be expected for a region of its size.

Kintner noted that the strength and vibrancy of Cincinnati’s arts reflect nearly a century of community support through ArtsWave and other organizations. In total, ArtsWave will award citizen-funded grants to more than 150 organizations and artists in 2024. That funding will also go toward what ArtsWave refers to as the illumination of the upcoming BLINK festival.

“With this report, we also affirm the significant economic impact that the Cincinnati region’s arts organizations make through their direct expenditures, ancillary revenue created by that spending, employment and taxes generated,” Kintner said.

Cincinnati’s art scene nothing to ‘BLINK’ at

BLINK may not be factored into the official economic impact numbers, but the arts and festival run by the Chamber receives prominent mentions throughout the 24-page report.

An estimated 2 million people attended BLINK in 2022. The most recent iteration of the urban showcase activated more than 30 city blocks, stretching from Findlay Market all the across the Ohio River into downtown Covington, Ky.

Beyond the art installations and animated murals, BLINK also featured a colorful parade down Fifth Street. There were more than 85 arts and community groups represented and there were more than 2,500 marchers. Perhaps even more significant, the kickoff celebration attracted tens of thousands of people to Cincinnati’s urban core to enjoy bars, restaurants and other activities.

Projection mapping on Memorial Hall during BLINK 2017
Projection mapping on Memorial Hall during BLINK 2017

In total, the four days of BLINK 2022 generated $249.3 million in total economic output, the Chamber noted. It supported 16,187 jobs that made earnings of nearly $88 million. Local and state jurisdictions benefited to the tune of a combined $6.8 million in income, sales and hotel tax revenues.

When you add the 2022 impact of arts and culture year-round with the impact of BLINK, the total contribution of arts and culture to the region’s economy in 2022 grows to $737.7 million. 

The Chamber’s president and CEO, Brendon Cull described the report as a “clarion call,” or a public demand for continued support of the arts for the betterment of the entire region.

“Arts and culture in the Cincinnati region can drive our growth in the future,” he said. “Our region’s arts and culture industry has proven to be a catalyst for innovation and growth, propelling Cincinnati onto the national stage as a hub where culture and commerce converge.”

Investing in more than works of art

Among other analyses, the study looked at the economic impact of the 10 largest organizations led by or predominantly for Black, Brown, Indigenous and People of Color, or the BIPOC community.

Examples of these institutions are the Robert O’Neal Multicultural Arts Center, Revolution Dance Theatre, Elementz Hip Hop Cultural Arts Center and Bi-Okto. It also includes arts-related programming at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

A performer takes part in a poetry slam sponsored by Elementz.

In 2022, the total economic impact of these 10 organizations was only about $15 million. However, a deeper dive showed that they had a combined growth impact of 26% over the course of the study period. That outpaced the total impact of arts organizations, which experienced about 19% growth. The same is true of the number of jobs created or supported. Those BIPOC organizations experienced a roughly 53% increase in those categories compared to 7.4% growth for all arts organizations. 

“Support from the annual ArtsWave Community Campaign provides a strong foundation from which the arts can benefit our communities in myriad social and educational ways,” Kintner said.

Spurring future growth through continued investment

While the region experienced record-highs in arts-related growth in recent years, the amounts achieved over the next few years may actually be greater, according to the Chamber. As it stands, projections show the annual economic impact of arts and culture events and institutions to balloon to roughly $587 million in 2027. Expectations are that the total 2023-2027 impact will approach $2.7 billion.

While those numbers are encouraging, the report shows that the ArtsWave campaign needs to grow faster and reverse a downward trend in the number of donors to deliver the same value to the community over the next century. The report projects that over the next four years, the total amount raised in inflation-adjusted, 2023 dollars will actually decrease.

A copy of the study, which highlights the methodology used for calculations, is available on ArtsWave’s website.

Downtown Cincinnati skyline. (Casey Weldon)

Maintaining a robust arts campaign is vitally important so that grants outpace inflation and stimulate further growth and innovation in the ecosystem, resulting in an ever-greater impact, Cull said.

The 2024 ArtsWave Community Campaign begins on Feb. 6.

“This report validates what many of us know already: Cincinnati does not just have an arts scene. We have an arts economy. And, if we invest in the arts, we can grow our region’s economy, population and cultural vibrancy,” he added.

Download the report or view it online