Vibrant arts strengthen bright, creative economy
You should donate to the arts in our community because you love the sound of music, are motivated by paintings or sculptures or love nothing more than an opening night at the ballet.
But the truth is, you should donate to the arts if none of those things speak to you. You should donate to the arts because they lead to increased vibrancy in our economy and our community and because a city rich in culture attracts new citizens and retains old ones.
“Increasing our commitment to the arts is not just to make things nicer or prettier,” said Jon R. Moeller, chief executive officer of Procter & Gamble, during an interview in his home. “Supporting the arts is also good business.”
Every city is fighting for new people to move there. But attracting the best and the brightest is what really matters. That was the premise of Richard Florida’s seminal work, “The Rise of the Creative Class.” Florida is clear about how important these people, frequently younger and more diverse, can mean to a city’s economy. “Access to talented and creative people is to modern business what access to coal and iron ore was to steelmaking.”
Much of the fuel for this economic engine in the Cincinnati arts world runs through ArtsWave, which has been funding the arts for nearly 100 years. Money given to ArtsWave each year goes to more than 150 artists and organizations that make our city feel more alive and more relevant. And the importance of that feeling is not to be discounted.
“The arts have a unique capacity to strengthen community connections, bridge divides, enhance physical and mental wellness, and bring us together through shared experiences,” said Alecia Kintner, ArtsWave president and CEO.
“In addition to these superpowers, the arts play a key role in our region’s economy. They help make Cincinnati a compelling place for the best employee talent being recruited here by our Fortune 500 companies; they drive billions of dollars in media attention to our region each year, differentiating Cincinnati from other places; and within our neighborhoods, they’re inspiring the next generation of our community by fueling learning and creativity. The arts make Cincinnati the place we are happy and proud to call ‘home.’”
Raising the bar
This year’s ArtsWave campaign will try to surpass last year’s haul of $11.9 million donated by more than 25,000 people. The campaign will be headed by Moeller and his wife, Lisa Sauer. Although, in fairness, it might be better to say it will be run by Sauer and her husband, Moeller. She has been connected to ArtsWave for years and wants to exceed last year’s total.
Sauer retired as senior vice president of product supply at Procter & Gamble and knows how important supporting the arts is even for people who have no interest. “It’s not about the art. It’s about a more vibrant economy and a more connected community.”
And P&G has a tradition of giving in no small part because this has been the company’s home since the beginning. And their employees live here, too.
Barbara Hauser worked at a variety of cultural institutions in town before becoming community relations manager for P&G. She worked at places that have received money, and she now helps to give it away. She sees the whole picture.
“At P&G, improving the communities where we live and work is part of purpose, values and principles as a company,” Hauser said. “When we support the ArtsWave campaign, we enable people in our community to experience the arts. In turn, this supports thousands of local jobs, contributes to safer neighborhoods, improves education and increases cultural diversity – all making our community stronger.”
To be clear, Sauer and Moeller are deeply committed to the arts, even if only for the art. Their home in Northern Kentucky is filled with paintings and sculptures they have collected from around the world. But they live in the real world and call this place home. They want the community enriched by the arts in every way. And if that makes it easier to recruit and retain employees to P&G or Fifth Third Bank or Kroger … all the better.
A long tradition
This support for the arts for a variety of reasons is not new to Cincinnati or P&G. The first board chair of the Cincinnati Institute of Fine Arts (the predecessor of ArtsWave) was none other than William Cooper Procter.
This commitment over the decades has created a rich cultural environment that we still benefit from. Cincinnati is the 11th-most vibrant arts community in the nation. And we are keeping good company as numbers 8, 9, and 10 on that list are Nashville, Los Angeles and New Orleans, according to the 2023 SMU DataArts, part of the National Center for Arts Research.
Who benefits? For example, the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Playhouse in the Park, BLINK and the Contemporary Arts Center. And of course, every person who gets to come and enjoy the remarkable works presented there.
But downstream, our entire economy benefits. The idea of dinner and a show has filled a lot of restaurants for early seating. People are paid to park cars, serve dinners and maybe even make more art.
Americans for the Arts has been studying the economic significance of the arts since 1960. Its most recent data shows that each person attending a cultural event spends an additional $31.47 per person, per event beyond the cost of admission.
If 2,200 people fill Music Hall, that’s $69,234 spent in our community. People traveling from farther away spend more. Those benefits are real and immediate. But sometimes, the real bonus comes in personnel offices across the region.
Fostering a healthy city
We have all chortled at the alleged Mark Twain quote “When the end of the world comes, I want to be in Cincinnati because it’s always 20 years behind the times.”
First of all, it does not appear likely that he ever said that. But more importantly, nobody really wants to move to or stay in a city that is only terrific as a way to delay the apocalypse. The truth is, people move to a city because it looks like a great place to live. Today, what makes a city great is arts and culture, sports teams and beautiful parks. Plus, housing and schools and all the traditional reasons.
A city needs all of those pieces to be healthy, which is why corporations are so committed to helping the arts through giving.
Moeller does not shy away from the additional benefits of a strong arts community. “It is in my best interest to attract the best minds to come and work for Procter & Gamble and then to keep them,” he said. “And that is true for all the companies here. We all benefit when talented people make this home.”
That happens, of course, not just because you can hear an opera singer fill Music Hall, or an actor make you cry, and then laugh, and then cry again at the Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati. No, it happens when you sit in an audience with other people crying and laughing and crying again. That is the feeling of community that makes a person decide not to move to Chicago or Denver.
In 2021, major arts donors like the Kresge Foundation, the Bush Foundation and Robert Woods Johnson Foundation worked collaboratively with the National Endowment for the Arts to try to gauge the importance of the arts on communities’ overall health, which is really just another way of saying: Would you want to live in a certain city or town? Their findings in “How Arts & Culture Unite People to Work Toward Community Well-Being” were not surprising.
The report found that arts and culture can help grow and amplify social cohesion for community well-being for all. This is done particularly through strategies that build and share power through community ownership, connect people across their differences and align with community change goals to reinforce desired impacts.
That might seem a little squishier than affordable housing and good schools, but it matters. It might be the reason why a lawyer and her schoolteacher husband might come to visit a friend and decide to come back to live. Or it might be why they stay.
It is certainly why Jon Moeller and Lisa Sauer decided to head the 2024 ArtsWave Campaign. At their best, the arts make our community better, they make our economy stronger, they connect people to strangers and ask us all to consider things in a new light.
“We give to the arts because it is the right thing to do,” Moeller said. “It also happens to be the smart thing to do. So, of course, we want to do this.”