WALNUT CREEK -- This city's culture and arts scene pumps at least $32.5 million a year into the local economy, according a new Americans for the Arts study.

Barry Gordon, director of Arts, Recreation and Community Services, unveiled the results of local, survey-based research used as part of a national Arts and Economic Prosperity IV report Tuesday night at the Lesher Center.

Nonprofit arts and culture organizations netted the City of Walnut Creek $32,483,480 in direct expenditures, 865 full-time equivalent jobs, $19,621,000 in household income, $1,184,000 in local government revenue and $1,641,000 in state revenue, according to the report.

"The results are very exciting," Gordon said. "We can look at the arts as an investment in Walnut Creek. It helps demonstrate that the arts industry is resilient in difficult economic times."

The national study covered 182 regions, 9,700 arts organizations, 150,000 audience members (1,000 in Walnut Creek) and is meant to show the direct and indirect impact of how each dollar spent on the arts is respent in the local economy.

"It follows the (cash) flow," Gordon explained. "When a theater production builds a set, they buy paint, the store pays the employee and the employee buys gas."

Walnut Creek City Council members are scheduled to see the full report in January. Though the numbers will likely be warmly welcomed, some already know what the report puts into dollar figures.


Advertisement

"The arts play a significant role in keeping our downtown vibrant and thriving," said Brian Hirahara, president of Walnut Creek-based BH Development.

Walnut Creek brings in about three times the median amount garnered by cities of similar size included in the survey, and even compares favorably to the national median of $49,081,279, which includes cities such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles in the averaging.

Some were surprised by data showing how many people travel to reach Walnut Creek. Seventy percent of the arts audiences were considered local (Contra Costa County), but 30 percent came from surrounding regions.

"That's huge," Gordon exclaimed. The survey shows that 60 percent of locals and almost three fourths of visitors from other places would travel to somewhere else if arts and culture were not available in Walnut Creek.

"The arts scene in Walnut Creek has always been pretty robust, even before the Lesher Center was built; it has helped to regionalize its strength," Gordon said.

Walnut Creek Arts Commission chairwoman Carol Fowler said the study results should help advocates for the arts make their case for support.

"Sometimes there is skepticism about support for the arts," Fowler remarked. "This makes the benefits tangible."

Clay Arts Guild President David Vanderjagt was not surprised by the study's findings.

"We have 100 members and about 200 students who take classes and come from all over the Bay Area, including San Francisco, Berkeley and elsewhere," he said.

Shannon Strain Demers, president of Contra Costa Musical Theatre, wondered whether city leaders will take the survey results into consideration when they are making future arts funding decisions.

"We feel that our audiences have grown because of the broader scope of shows that we have chosen to do and because our talent pool has grown beyond Contra Costa," Strain Demers said.

Walnut Creek was the only East Bay city participating in the study, and only 22 out of 49 local arts organizations took part. Gordon believes the money numbers would have been even higher with full participation.

Other notable participating cities from Northern California include San Jose, Santa Clara and Sacramento.

Walnut Creek Economic Development Manager Ron Gerber said he is looking forward to reading the report.

"It is a good idea to collaborate with existing arts infrastructure and strengthen them," Gerber said. "The arts and culture is one of the features that make the downtown attractive."

Contact Dana Guzzetti at dguzzetti10@gmail.com or call 925-202-9292.

---