In hard times, government support for the arts often seems like an unaffordable luxury, a matter of concern only to cultural elites who are out of touch with economic realities.
But that’s simply not true. Study after study has shown that the arts are an economic boon to world-class cities like New York. People come here to experience the best in arts and culture just as surely as they come here to gawk at skyscrapers, ride the Staten Island Ferry and visit Central Park. Culture is, in a word, an industry in places like New York.T
The Metropolitan Museum of Art recently released attendance figures from three special exhibitions in 2010. The figures speak for themselves: The three exhibits attracted more than a million and a half visitors, mostly during the summer months. Museum officials estimate that the shows generated nearly $800 million in economic activity thanks to all those visitors who made the pilgrimage to Fifth Avenue.
For those skeptics who wonder if the museum simply brought in people who already were visiting New York, it should be noted that nearly half of the visitors to the Met this summer said that the museum was the key reason they came to New York. Emily K. Rafferty, the museum’s president, rightly noted that the museum “more than repays the investments that our public sector makes in this institution.”
Of course, the Met is only one of many museums, theaters, galleries and other institutions that make New York one of the world’s great centers of culture. Without government support, many would be in dire straits and some no doubt would close their doors.
As City Hall and Albany begin to put together doomsday budgets, it’s important to remember that funding for the arts is no luxury. In a world-class city, it’s a necessity.