PUBLISHED: 4:44 PM on Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Arts conference shows economic impact
Organizations struggle with funding, recruitment, find new ideas
Juneau artists should hit the road. That's the conclusion of Nancy DeCherney, executive director of the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council, following a conference for arts administrators from around the state. The conference was held in Juneau last week.

"One of the things that might come out of the conference, is for us to do a better job promoting local artists around the state," she said.

Convened by the Rasmuson Foundation, the Alaska State Council on the Arts, and Americans for the Arts, the purpose of the conference was to bring together professionals and volunteers and educate them on the histories and missions of arts agencies.

"Arts are an industry that stimulate the economy in cities and towns across the country. A vibrant arts and culture industry helps local businesses thrive," said Barbara Schaffer Bacon, co-director, Animating Democracy, Americans for the Arts, who delivered a presentation at the conference.

Bacon cited results from a 2007 nationwide study conducted by Americans for the Arts. It found that the nonprofit arts industry generates $166 billion in economic activity every year across the country, resulting in $29 billion in federal, state and local tax revenues.

Twenty-five regions including Anchorage and Homer participated in the 2007 study and a previous study conducted five years earlier. Comparative data from these two studies showed a significant increase in spending on arts activities.

To wit: an average increase of 58 percent in organization expenditures, a 50 percent increase in audience expenditures, and a 50 percent boost in overall economic activity. The study showed arts activity in Homer generated 2.6 million in total expenditures in fiscal year 2005, a considerable increase from the previously studied period.

And there's more to the arts than the economic benefits.

"Why bother moving to a small town if the only action taking place on Friday nights involves a can of beer and a jukebox? Wouldn't small-town life be much more interesting if there were opening receptions for art galleries, or live theater performances taking place at the restored Art Deco theater," writes John Villani, author of "The 100 Best Small Art Towns in America" (John Muir Publications, 1996).

Villani writes that energetic volunteers and well-run non-profits are essential to the creation and maintenance of thriving small town art centers. In Alaska, Homer is among a handful of cities with a professionally run arts council. Others include Ketchikan, Fairbanks, Kodiak and Juneau. There used to be more, but several professionally managed groups lost their funding in the late 1980s when state money for the arts plummeted, according to Charlotte Fox, executive director of the Alaska State Council on the Arts.

DeCherney said the conference helped professional and volunteer administrators figure out how to share resources. She said she expects to see more artist exchange programs.

Usually grants cover out-of-state performers, but DeCherney has new ideas for bringing artists from other parts of the state to Juneau.

Earlier this year, Rasmuson Foundation president Diane Kaplan called Juneau a leader statewide in its support of the arts. In the Capital City in May to announce Rasmuson's Artists Awards, Kaplan said Juneau had a windfall when it came to the arts.

"We have 12 individual project awards, six fellowships. Out of those 18, five are artists from Juneau, which is fantastic, as well as our distinguished artist award." The Anchorage foundation's awards are part of its Arts and Culture Initiative, a ten-year, 20-million-dollar investment to increase the impact of arts in Alaska.

Rie Munoz won the foundation's top award-the 2007 distinguished artist award. Other Juneau artists taking home prizes included Janice Criswell who received a 12-thousand dollar fellowship. Stefan Hakenberg, Diane Baxter, John Leo and David Walker won project awards. Kaplan said institutions such as the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council, Perseverance Theater and yearly music festivals help to support individual artists.

But on top of funding challenges, arts organizations around the state have a tough time holding onto talent.

Perseverance Theatre in Juneau is now looking for two top directors. Its board of directors learned earlier this month that P.J. Paparelli would be leaving the artistic director position in November. In July Perseverance announced producing director Jeffrey Herrman was leaving. The theater has been looking for a replacement, but has not yet found someone to take his position.