How a Business Community Profits from a Healthy Arts Economy

by Roland Kushner

Advocates for a good business economy have many reasons to encourage arts and culture. Data for the nation and Lehigh and Northampton Counties help to make that case. Since 2010, with Randy Cohen of Americans for the Arts, I’ve produced annual National Arts Index reports measuring the vitality of arts and culture in the U.S. using 81 national-level indicators. Since 2012, we developed a web-accessible Local Arts Index with dozens of county-level indicators of the arts. Both projects show evidence of different ways that arts affect communities, and how they make for a good business environment. The indicators highlight the financial flows, participation, infrastructure and capital assets, and competitiveness of the arts. They describe activity in all sectors – individual, business, nonprofit, government, and in numerous artistic genres and disciplines. See the reports and data at, hosted by Allentown’s Kyle David Group. Here are a few high points of what we’ve found.

First, while the economics of the arts matter, they’re not the biggest part of the story. Arts advocates have always been especially attentive to showing economic impact, how investment in the arts produced positive economic flows rippling through an economy. Those are good arguments, but are not unique to the arts – other investments also increased economic activity. In fact, the competitiveness of the arts, and the ways they enhance our communities, rest on many other kinds of contributions:

  • Aesthetics: the arts create beauty and preserve it as part of culture
  • Creativity: the arts encourage creativity, a critical skill in a dynamic world
  • Expression: artistic work lets us communicate our interests and visions
  • Identity: arts goods, services, and experiences help define our culture
  • Innovation: the arts are sources of new ideas, futures, concepts, and connections
  • Preservation: arts and culture keep our collective memories intact
  • Prosperity: the arts create millions of jobs and enhance economic health
  • Skills: arts aptitudes and techniques are needed in all sectors of society and work
  • Social Capital: we enjoy the arts together, across races, generations, and places

The dynamic Lehigh Valley market environment experiences many benefits of those virtues. Our communities – not just the feature attractions in Bethlehem, Easton, and Allentown, but also the boroughs and townships, are seeing residents come out for arts and culture activities. More restaurants have original art, more coffeehouses have music, and more innovation and entrepreneurship among arts nonprofits old and new. The theme of “creative placemaking” (developed by Anne Gadwa Nicodemus of Metris Arts Consulting in Easton) is how places across the country view the arts contribution to community character and vitality.

Lehigh Valley consumers are avid arts consumers, spending more than $360 per year on arts and culture products and services, compared to median U.S. spending of $345. One household in five contributes to arts and culture or public broadcasting. Local arts and culture attractions and events draw consumers from a wide radius. It’s more and more part of our brand and identity.

There are multiple pathways for enhancing business performance through the arts. In products and services, superior design can be the main reason for competitive advantage. In managing people, fostering creativity and unorthodox thinking unleashes innovation and entrepreneurship. The arts show people with different backgrounds and professional skills how to collaborate. These new competencies promote superior competitive position for companies of all sizes.

Business leaders are always seeking out new avenues of advantage and better performance. Companies can engage in the arts as supporters, use the arts in human resource management, and foster artistic environments in their workplaces, and recognize their workers’ interests in the arts. These are good arguments anywhere, but they’re especially relevant in our Lehigh Valley with its arts-rich environment. Being a champion of the arts is good business.

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