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Jacksonville ‘State Of The Arts’ Focuses On Culture As Investment

Ennis Davis
Modern Cities
Case Maclaim's mural on Forsyth Street downtown.

At Jacksonville’s annual State of the Arts event Wednesday, the economics of culture took center stage as a new national study finds investing in artists is good business in Florida.

Advocacy organization Americans for the Arts, with help of 341 communities, has tracked since 2007 how investing in arts nonprofits can drive economic growth.

In Jacksonville Wednesday, state officials touted the group’s latest study, showing arts nonprofits created or supported 4.6 million full-time jobs and generated $27.54 billion in government revenue over the last two years.

Florida Division of Cultural Affairs Director Sandy Shaughnessy said the data should convince local officials to see arts funding as an investment and not charity.

“I want to challenge you to think about arts and culture as an industry, one that supports jobs, generates government revenue and is the cornerstone of Florida’s vital tourism industry,” she said.

Florida arts nonprofits contribute 130,000 full-time jobs and generate close to $300 million dollars in tax revenue, according to the study.

But not every artist attending the Jacksonville State of the Arts kickoff saw treating art as an industry as a panacea for curing neighborhood ills or building a local economy.

Rosemary Alarcon said she moved to Jacksonville from New York City. Now she paints full time, something she was never able to do in New York because she couldn’t make enough money.

She said treating art purely as a business can lead to gentrification.

“I watched this in New York — in SoHo, in Chelsea and in some of these areas that were just warehouses, abandoned — and what happens is the galleries find spaces that are affordable, and when that happens people will flock there, and then the little coffee shops will open and sandwich places,” she said. “The problem happens when real estate investors come in and buy up the buildings and then make it so unaffordable for anybody to remain there and then they have to move.”

Alarcon said she hopes elected officials use this data in a balanced approach to funding art-fueled revitalization efforts.

Study Methodology

Economists at the Georgia Institute of Technology tracked how many times dollars invested in arts nonprofits by private companies or government institutions were re-spent within the local economy. Using a series of mathematical equations and methods called “econometrics,” they measured how many times money “rippled” through a community before it left.

The model took into account what employees of arts nonprofits spent individually with their salaries, what each nonprofit spent on supplies as an entity and what patrons spent to enjoy events.

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner, who also serves as the state’s chief cultural officer, said the AFA-calculated $4.68 billion economic impact of arts in the Sunshine State goes hand-in-hand with Florida’s record-breaking tourism industry.

“With an economic impact of this magnitude, there’s no arguing that culture builds Florida,” he said.

Detzner said the study also shows art can be a powerful vehicle for neighborhood revitalization, giving languishing communities infusions of economic activity.

In its own study, the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville found $2.5 million in city arts investment had more than an $80 million impact in a single year, from 2015 to 2016.

‘Arts Alive’ Winners Announced

The State of the Art’s event also included an awards luncheon, where, for the second year, thePNC Bank Foundation’s Arts Alive program awarded tens of thousands of dollars to Jacksonville arts projects geared toward underserved communities.

This year, the foundation gave four projects a total of $60,000.

One of those is the Performer’s Project, a weekly open-mic night and workshop for at-risk youth, organized by poet and educator Ebony Payne-English.

“The fact that PNC is willing to stand behind it and fund it and give teens in Jacksonville a safe place to share and a platform to exchange … I’m over the moon,” she said.

English was awarded $15,000 to pay for supplies, transportation and other costs associated with her program.

The PNC Arts Alive program is a three-year commitment of $185,000 for arts programs in Duval County.

Other award recipients this year include the Florida Ballet’s boys-only dance program to help at-risk young men experience the fine arts, the Cathedral Arts Project initiative to send artists into classrooms with failing kids and the Jax Civic Orchestra’s cultural festival showcasing classical music from ethnic minorities.

Ryan Benk can be reached at, at (904) 358 6319 or on Twitter at @RyanMichaelBenk.

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.