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creative:impact - $100 million dollars!

Creative Washtenaw

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.

Creative Washtenaw CEO Deb Polich at the WEMU studio.
John Bommarito
89.1 WEMU
Creative Washtenaw CEO Deb Polich at the WEMU studio.


Destination Ann Arbor President/CEO Sarah Miller.
Destination Ann Arbor
Destination Ann Arbor President/CEO Sarah Miller.

Sarah has been an integral part of Destination Ann Arbor since 2001, where she served as the Finance Administrator through 2009. From there, she spent the next 10 years as the Vice President of Finance & Administration. In this position, Sarah managed all financial and operational aspects of the organization, created a finance oversight committee, and played an integral role in the unification of the Ann Arbor Area Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Ypsilanti Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. In 2019, Sarah was promoted to Chief Operating Officer, leading Destination Ann Arbor through a tumultuous period of uncertainty. She developed a COVID response plan to keep the organization solvent, despite losing over 60% of annual revenue. In addition, Sarah was instrumental in the creation of various partnership programs, elevating Destination Ann Arbor’s position as a community advocate and economic generator.

Her appointment as President & CEO was enthusiastically supported by the Destination Ann Arbor Board of Directors. Michael Weber, Vice President of Weber’s Boutique Hotel and outgoing 2022 Board Chair shared, “We are thrilled to welcome Sarah as our new CEO and are excited for her leadership and impact at Destination Ann Arbor.” Incoming 2023 Board Chair, Barry LaRue, added, “We look forward to Sarah’s leadership. Her enthusiasm for Washtenaw County is infectious. I know the entire board and staff are energized to present and promote our community in creative and exciting ways!”.

Sarah’s achievements go well beyond her duties at Destination Ann Arbor. Over the years, she has shown her commitment to the Washtenaw County community through her active involvement in several board positions and planning committees, including Main Street Area Association, A2Y Chamber of Commerce, University of Michigan Natural History Museum, South & West Washtenaw Consortium, and Michigan Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus, among others.

A lifelong resident of Washtenaw County, Sarah’s passion for the area runs deep, evident by the knowledge and enthusiasm she brings to her job each day. “I’m proud to be able to contribute to an organization that supports economic growth and vitality in our community. Throughout the last 32 years, I have had the privilege of either working in or attending school in almost every community in our county. I’m looking forward to supporting the home I love through the mission of Destination Ann Arbor.”, says Sarah Miller.


Destination Ann Arbor

Destination Ann Arbor Appoints Sarah Miller as New President & CEO

Americans for the Arts

The Economic and Social Impact of Nonprofit Arts and Culture Organizations and Their Audiences in Washtenaw County, MI

Groundbreaking Study Reveals Economic and Social Impact of $98.3 Million Nonprofit Arts + Creative Sector in Washtenaw County


Deb Polich: This is 89 one WEMU, and it's time for creative:impact, WEMU's exclusive show featuring the artists, creative people, businesses and organizations impacting Washtenaw County's quality of life, place and economy. I'm Deb Polich, president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw and your host. And today, impact--arts and creative impact--is our focus for the show. For more than a year, 373 communities from across all 50 states and Puerto Rico have been collecting data and surveys from nonprofit arts and creative organizations for the sixth National Arts and Creative Economic Prosperity Report, conducted by Americans for the Arts. Thanks to support from Destination Ann Arbor, Creative Washtenaw was able to include the greater Ann Arbor area in this national study, the largest of its kind. Why Destination Ann Arbor? Because our guest, Sarah Miller, president of Destination Ann Arbor, knows numbers talk. Sarah, welcome to creative:impact.

Creative Washtenaw
Creative Washtenaw

Sarah Miller: Thanks for having me.

Deb Polich: So glad to have you here. You know, I'm realizing this is your first appearance on creative:impact since you became the president of Destination Arbor, what, about a year ago? 2022?

Sarah Miller: That's right. The end of 2022.

Deb Polich: So, not even a full year yet. So, still getting getting to know it all. So, thanks for being here. And I want to also thank Destination Ann Arbor for supporting this study. It is our fourth time that we've been part of this national study. So, we've had a chance to kind of create this longitudinal study and information about the impact of the nonprofit organizations in Washtenaw County. So, thank you.

Sarah Miller: Our pleasure.

Deb Polich: So, I'm going to ask you a question. You've been part of a lot of impact studies. Why? Why are impact studies important to Destination Ann Arbor and to our community?

Creative Washtenaw

Sarah Miller: Well, you know, we have the data. Obviously, it's important in the ROI of what we do--

Deb Polich: Return on investment?

Sarah Miller: Return on investment. Excuse me, I like those financial lingos.

Deb Polich: Right, Right.

Sarah Miller: But it is important. We're tracking it all the time. But you need validation. You need someone from an outside source to say, "Yes. What you have is accurate. And let's even take it a step further and see the greater impacts of what you and your organization is doing." It's really important from having that outside opinion.

Deb Polich: It's kind of that ripple effect of everything that you're doing because it goes beyond the organization, the individual artists--creative in our case--and even the businesses that you work with in the hotels.

Sarah Miller: It's a wider lens. Absolutely.

Deb Polich: Absolutely. So, this, as I said, is our fourth study. And we were really interested in what the results were going to be for this because it was post-pandemic. So, it was conducted during 2022, and we weren't quite sure what it was going to show, but we knew it was going to show something. So, you know, our community was really impacted. We were the first to shut our doors, the last to reopen and, even still, are still working really hard to recover. But, in addition to all of that, we were really pleased that, for the first time, Americans for the Arts was looking at this from a social impact point of view, as well as economic. And there was a real emphasis for us to be engaging with BIPOC--Black, indigenous, populations of color--nonprofit organizations. So, there's a lot of data here.

Sarah Miller: There is.

Deb Polich: Too much to talk about during a ten-minute show. So, what do you say we look at things like the local economic impact, the jobs, the taxes, and the spending?

Sarah Miller: Sounds like a plan.

Deb Polich: Okay. So, $98.3 million is the impact generated by organizations. And the 1.48 million people who attend events in Washtenaw County, that is, by the way, filling Michigan Football Stadium almost 15 times. So, many more than those six, seven games we have a year.

Creative Washtenaw

Sarah Miller: And let's just make a comment because of all of the remarkable cultural events we have that garners that support.

Deb Polich: Absolutely. No question. So, that's really close to the $100 million that we reported in 2016. So, what do you think that says about this sector, post-COVID, about the strength of our local creative nonprofits?

Sarah Miller: You mentioned the social aspects. I couldn't agree more. I think if COVID taught us anything is that we need people, we need each other. And this is a great way the cultural community to connect, to provoke feeling, when you go to different culture or musical events or plays or even art exhibits, anything, you name it, and experiencing that with your family, your friends, it creates a connection that we kind of lost during those COVID times. And being able to reconnect there, it has more meaning now than I think it did before.

Deb Polich: And that spillover, when we talk about spending, we show this report shows that $27 per person over and above admission tickets, is what's spent by local audiences. And that's doubled to 56%--sorry, $52 per person--from outside of the community at restaurants, for parking, for transportation, for babysitting, for spending on shopping and all those things. $52 for outsiders. What does that mean to our economy and our lodging in our destination that is Ann Arbor?

Sarah Miller: Well, it certainly helps to support our hospitality community. You mentioned it earlier, too, about the impacts. The hospitality community as a whole has been highly impacted by COVID. So, having a great arts community in your backyard and having that...again, it's that experience of that social aspect with people. You can go to the restaurants. You can go downtown and experience the different aspects that just relates to that. And it keeps more than just the arts and culture community going.

Deb Polich: And do you hear, from Destination Ann Arbor's point of view, do you hear merchants talking how important this sector is to their restaurants and to their stores?

Sarah Miller: Absolutely. It enhances the overall experience that people are looking for downtown. So, it's an enriched cultural experience, and Ann Arbor is known for it. Washtenaw County is known for it.

Deb Polich: My guest is Sarah Miller, president of Destination Ann Arbor. And we're discussing the recently released Arts and Economic Prosperity Impact for Washtenaw County here on 89 one WEMU. So, turning to jobs, the study reports 1500 jobs are generated by the nonprofit sector. We know that those numbers are a decrease. We expected them to be a decrease, again, because so many organizations were hit so hard. Although costs have gone up, expenses have gone up, we haven't been able to replace our staff members. So, we're all working really, really hard to provide what we've done before without skipping a beat. These jobs are rarely, if ever, remote. You can't run The Ark. You can't run Riverside Art Center or Purple Rose Theater from far away. What does having those businesses and those jobs for those businesses in town mean?

Creative Washtenaw

Sarah Miller: Well, it's bringing people to our downtown areas. I mean, you're seeing the vitality across the country with different urban destinations, not having people downtown, right? And they're going to the suburbs. They're going to outside areas, and they're not in the hearts of where our cultural experience is. So, having people in those jobs in those places brings people downtown. It just supports the greater economy.

Deb Polich: So, what about taxes? You might be surprised to learn we always hear that we're asking for handouts or nonprofits are asking for handouts. And if I combined the National Endowment for the Arts and the Michigan Arts and Cultural Council donations and grants for 2022, that was a little bit over $1.3 million, okay? The federal, state and local taxes generated per this report by the nonprofit arts and organizations are $17 million.

Sarah Miller: Impressive.

Deb Polich: Impressive, right? We think it's a handout, but really not much.

Sarah Miller: Yeah, impressive. And I think that just speaks to the importance of the community, as a whole, to our greater economic engine.

Creative Washtenaw

Deb Polich: And the investment aspect of it has a return effect not only on our communities but also on our governments.

Sarah Miller: And our lifestyles.

Deb Polich: So, we can talk numbers all day long. But, from your point of view, how important is our cultural assets to the total vitality of our region? What would we look like if we didn't have it?

Sarah Miller: Vanilla. In one word, vanilla. I mean, it's what colors us. It's makes everything we do vibrant. And I wouldn't want to live without it.

Deb Polich: And you. You're raising your family here?

Sarah Miller: I am. Locally. Have been forever.

Deb Polich: And they're engaged in some of this.

Sarah Miller: Oh, yup. My kids put on plays every summer. They're a part of that cultural community. We see it all the time. We love coming down to the Michigan Theater. It's great. Yeah, absolutely. We're culturally inclined.

Deb Polich: So, it's not only business. It's family. It's culture. It's that impact on our lives.

Creative Washtenaw CEO Deb Polich and Destination Ann Arbor CEO Sarah Miller at the WEMU studio
Mat Hopson
89.1 WEMU
Creative Washtenaw CEO Deb Polich and Destination Ann Arbor CEO Sarah Miller at the WEMU studio

Sarah Miller: It's why we want to live here.

Deb Polich: Sarah, thanks for being part of the show. Thanks for supporting the work of our arts and cultural community. And thanks for doing what you're doing there at Destination Ann Arbor to bring people into town.

Sarah Miller: We appreciate you, Deb, Thank you.

Deb Polich: Thank you. That's Sarah Miller, president of Destination Ann Arbor. She joined me to dig into the recently released $100 million Arts and Economic Prosperity report for Washtenaw County. Find more about the report, the national numbers as well, and Sarah Miller 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 FM 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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