Juneau's 'creative vitality' gets high marks

Posted: Thursday, March 24, 2011

The strength of Juneau’s arts community is well known to those who live here, and a new report commissioned by the Alaska State Council on the Arts offers some hard data to back up that point of pride.

Juneau’s Creative Vitality Index, a measure of the overall health of our city’s arts-related creative economy, came in at a robust 1.47 in 2009, well above the national baseline figure of 1.0, and a substantial increase from the previous year’s figure of 1.16. The latest CVI puts Juneau at the top level in the state, a position it shares with Anchorage, which came in at 1.48, up from 1.37. Statewide, the CVI was 1.08, up from .98 in 2008.

The 2009 figures were released earlier this month by the ASCA, and represent the latest data available.

The Creative Vitality Index, compiled by the Western States Art Federation, provides a concise way to summarize complex information and economic relationships. Updated annually for cities and states across the nation, the index is based on seven indicators of community participation in the arts, as well as on arts-related employment data from that region. The community participation indicators include sales from arts-related stores (such as book and music stores); museum, art gallery and individual artist sales; performing arts revenues; and income from nonprofit arts organizations. WESTAF gathers the raw data from two main sources: the Urban Institute’s National Center for Charitable Statistics, which collects information from the Internal Revenue Service’s 990 forms submitted by nonprofit organizations, and from Economic Modeling Specialists, a company that gathers employment data from the U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Census Bureau, and other sources.

The national baseline of 1.0 is recalibrated every year based on overall economic trends and inflation.

Ryan Stubbs, director of research at WESTAF, said that big jump in Juneau’s CVI, from 1.16 to 1.47, could be due to several factors. The data tends to be more “volatile” in areas with small populations, he said, because figures are compiled on a per-capita basis. A substantial increase in one category can have a big impact on the overall CVI.

In Juneau, the largest contributor to the increase was a category called “arts-active organizations,” which includes tribal, cultural and historical organizations.

“Juneau did well in that category to begin with,” Stubbs said.

“In the prior year it was also the largest number, but it was 2.35 and it jumped to 5.61,” he said, adding that the figures show an increase of about $4 million.

Statewide revenues for arts-active organizations were also extremely high; the statewide CVI in that category was 2.81, nearly triple the national figure, and includes more than $100 million in total revenue.

Another strong category was sales from art dealers, which came in at three times the national level, 3.07. Alaska-wide the figure was 1.44.

One of the Juneau indexes that showed a decrease was bookstore sales. Stubbs said this decrease is reflected in national figures as well, but that there was a “greater downward trend” in Juneau. The index for bookstore sales only includes brick-and-mortar retailers, not online sales, he said, as online sales are difficult to track in a consistent way across the country. Juneau’s CVI for bookstore sales was .88; the Alaska-wide figure was 1.23. (What this means for us: Don’t neglect your local booksellers!)

CVI reports are valuable for a number of reasons. They provide a concrete way to talk about the economic value of the arts, Stubbs said, and help broaden people’s understanding of what the arts-related economy actually involves — not just arts organizations but occupations and businesses.

For arts-related groups and businesses, the detailed data provides a way to measure changes in a region’s economic health, allowing them to see exactly where these changes — both positive and negative — are taking place year to year. This information points up strengths and weaknesses in specific areas, both in the for-profit and nonprofit sectors, and can be used in advocacy, stategic planning or emergency action.

The CVI also allows those not directly involved in the arts — even if they’re data-phobic — a way to grasp the economic value and reach of our arts community, and how our participation and support, especially in a small town, can actually have a measurable impact.

To read the Alaska-wide report, visit www.eed.state.ak.us/aksca/.

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