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creative:impact - That’s $1 trillion with a “T”

Randy Cohen with his posters.
Randy Cohen
Randy Cohen with his posters.

Creative industries in Washtenaw County add hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy. In the weeks and months to come, host Deb Polich, the President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, explores the myriad of contributors that make up the creative sector in Washtenaw County.

Deb Polich
David Fair
89.1 WEMU
Deb Polich, President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, at the WEMU studio.


Randy Cohen
Sam Kittner
Randy Cohen

Randy Cohen is Vice President of Research at Americans for the Arts—the national advocacy organization for the arts—where he has been empowering arts advocates since 1991. He publishes Arts & Economic Prosperity, the national economic impact study of nonprofit arts organizations and their audiences, and Americans Speak Out About the Arts, a national public opinion study about the arts.

Randy led the development of The National Arts Index, the annual measure of the health and vitality of arts in the U.S. and the National Arts Policy Roundtable, an annual convening of leaders who focus on the advancement of American culture—launched in partnership with Robert Redford and the Sundance Institute.

His 10 Reasons to Support the Arts blog received the Gold Award from the Association of Media & Publishing—their top honor for best blog post of the year. He was a recent nominee for the Sidney Yates Advocacy Award for outstanding advocacy on behalf of the performing arts in America.

A sought-after speaker, Randy has given speeches in all 50 states, and regularly appears in the news media—including the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and on C-SPAN, CNN, CNBC, and NPR.


Americans for the Arts

Mr. Randy Cohen

Arts and Cultural Production Satellite Account, U.S. and States, 2021

2022-2023 Arts & Economic Prosperity Economic Impact Study (AEP6)


Deb Polich: Welcome to creative:impact on 89 one WEMU. I'm Deb Polich, who, by day, acts as the president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw. And on Tuesdays, I'm your host for creative:impact, the WEMU segment that explores the impact of our local artists, creative workers, businesses and what they do for Washtenaw County, our state, and our nation. The Bureau of Economic Analysis, the BEA, recently released its Arts and Cultural Production Report for 2021. The numbers are big. To help us understand what they mean and why this economic data is so important, I've invited Randy Cohen, the vice president of research and policy at Americans for the Arts, to be my guest. He's on the line from Washington, D.C. Randy, welcome to creative:impact.

Randy Cohen: Thank you, Deb. Great to be with you.

Deb Polich: You know, we've known each other for a long time. And in preparing for this interview, though, I realized I don't know your path. How did you, a theater major from San Diego State, find your way to being the go-to person for numbers and data about the arts?

Randy Cohen: Well, you know, it's funny. I've got an arts background, but I also have a medical research background. I used to work for Stanford and Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation in Loyoya, California, and the arts people wondered what I was doing in the sciences, and the science people wondered what I was doing in the arts. But, you know, interestingly, it's so much of the same creative process. And you come to Washington, D.C., and those things fit together like hand in glove. And, you know, here I've been for three decades.

Deb Polich: I had no idea about your medical background, but I definitely know a lot about your arts background. So, with respect to NPR's Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal, let's get to the numbers. The BEA reports that art and culture is a $1 trillion industry nationally and, in Michigan, a $15.5 billion industry. What did you think when you saw those numbers released?

2021 BEA National Map
U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis
2021 BEA National Map

Randy Cohen: Well, I was amazed by those numbers, and I'm sure a lot of folks were. Arts and culture is a much bigger industry than people expect. And these numbers, which include the nonprofit, the commercial, the education sector, for the first time ever, crossed $1 trillion--trillion with a T. In my memos in the office, I had to, like, capitalize the T and underline it. It's such a significant figure.

Deb Polich: I'm thinking Austin Powers could probably say that really well: $1 trillion!

Randy Cohen: Trillion dollars!

Deb Polich: Right. These numbers are from 2021. And, at that time, COVID was still raging and negatively impacting our sector as well as everyone else. But these numbers show up a growth from the pre-pandemic numbers. Do the numbers tell the whole story about recovery and our resilience as a sector?

Randy Cohen: Well, they tell a pretty good story about what's going on. I'll say, in 2019, you know, before the pandemic, you know, we saw over 5 million jobs in the sector, and then in 2020, down to 4.6 million, and now up to, you know, 4.9 million jobs nationally. But, you know, the performing arts have continued to struggle. You know, I'm sure in your community, like everywhere, attendance, you know, is still working its way back. It's only about three quarters of the way back--people getting back to your live events. On the other hand, other sectors have really thrived. But the bottom line is, nationally, the arts represent 4.4% of the nation's economy, 2.7% of Michigan's economy. And is that a lot or a little? Well, I'll tell you about, you know, this much. In Michigan, that's bigger than transportation, that's bigger than agriculture, that's bigger than education. So, even working its way back, the arts are significant industry in the state.

Deb Polich: Absolutely. And we pay attention to those numbers a lot--those of us in the field. But it doesn't seem to be an industry that gets counted among media or even economic development corporation groups. Why do you think that is, and how can we change it? Big question.

Randy Cohen: Yeah, well, I'll tell you this. The numbers, you know, bring clout, and it changes the conversation about the arts. But it's not an intuitive way to think about the arts. You know, I don't think anybody gets into the arts, you know, or goes to an arts event, you know, this weekend, because it's going to be good for the economy.

Deb Polich True.

Randy Cohen: They're going to go to the arts because they're passionate about the arts or they're looking for a creative experience. The fact is they've also got a wonderful benefit on the community. And I'll give you another one. You know, if you look at spending by arts audiences, the typical attendee in the Ann Arbor area spends close to $28 per person per event every time they go to an arts event, not including the cost of admission. So, the arts are not only a big industry, but they help other industries, like restaurants and parking and, you know, retail. And so, it's just not an intuitive story, but it's a super powerful one. And the numbers underscore it in a phenomenal way.

Deb Polich: Absolutely. And, you know, I think sometimes we need to think about arts as a consumable product as well. 89 one WEMU creative:impact continues. I'm Deb Polich, and my guest is Randy Cohen, the VP of research and policy at Americans for the Arts. We're talking about the recent reports about the arts and creative industries impact economically. Randy, Americans for the Arts has itself conducted economic studies of the nonprofit arts sector for a long time, I think dating back to 1994. And you lead what is known as the Arts and Economic Prosperity Studies. What are they? And what do they measure?

Randy Cohen: Well, so the big overall figure we just talked about, you know that trillion-dollar figure, that's all the arts. You know, that's commercial, nonprofit, import, export, artists. For this study, we actually narrowed down our base to just nonprofit arts and cultural organizations or municipal organizations, places in the community where arts are happening, like at a library or a social service organization, and look at the impact of that spending on the community. About eight years ago, Ann Arbor was part of our big national study, and it was just a shade under $100 million of economic activity when you look at spending by the organizations because their businesses and that event-related spending by audiences, right? That $28 per person per event, not including the cost of admission. And that $99.9 million, just to be really precise, that supports close to 2600 jobs in the Ann Arbor area.

Deb Polich: So, well, that report drew and continues to draw a lot of attention. And we are right now conducting AEP6, the Arts of Economic Prosperity study number six. And we've done our audience surveys, but we're also in the middle, right now, of getting all the nonprofit organizations to drop their information into the survey. So, tell us where you are on a national level. That's our local report. What's going on there, and when do you hope to have the study done?

Randy Cohen: So, Ann Arbor is one of 400 communities across the country that are part of this national study where all 50 states, plus D.C., plus Puerto Rico, we study communities as small as 1400 people, as large as 4 million. And we're doing all that research and look forward to publishing the second week of October of this year. So, results are coming up. And it's going to talk about how the arts in Ann Arbor are supporting jobs and generating government revenue and driving tourism and attracting people from outside the community to Ann Arbor to see your great arts and cultural assets there.

Deb Polich: Right. And, actually, we're doing a countywide study of the whole Washtenaw County area, the greater Ann Arbor area, as we did the last time, too. You know, I have to say that we're a little worried that it's possible that we might drop below that $100 million because of the COVID and the recovery. What do you say if that happens? What's that story?

Randy Cohen: Well, you know, it's clear that COVID and the pandemic has had a huge impact on all kinds of sectors. And so, that's not going to be a surprise. And, you know, but the fact is, even during a pandemic, which was just crippling to the arts industry, there's still an industry that supports jobs and generates government revenue. I don't think anybody is going to be surprised if the numbers go down, especially in the arts. And in fact, the US Bureau of Economic Analysis, in a report last year said, "Wow, airlines were hit. Different kinds of sectors were hit hard." And then, there's the arts. I mean, they called the arts industries out just for being hit harder than so many other industries. And so, I guess it's going to take a while to build back. But, again, even in a pandemic, you know, the data are going to be so powerful to show they're still getting people out of their home. The arts, you know, they give us the opportunity for shared experiences in public spaces. They get us shopping at our local merchants.

Deb Polich: Just so much. We add so much. And we're resilient too. And I have to thank you and others for helping us change the conversation from just arts for art's sake, which is important to also arts and economic impact too. That's Randy Cohen, VP of research at Americans for the Arts. And, Randy, thanks for being on the show.

Randy Cohen: Thanks for having me.

Deb Polich: Find out more about Randy and find many of the reports we mentioned today at WEMU dot org. You've been listening to creative:impact. I'm Deb Polich, president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, and your host. Mat Hopson is our producer. We invite you to join us every Tuesday to meet the people who make Washtenaw creative. This is 89 one WEMU Ypsilanti. Public Radio from Eastern Michigan University.

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Polich hosts the weekly segment creative:impact, which features creative people, jobs and businesses in the greater Ann Arbor area.
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