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New Economic report underscores the money making function of ArtPrize

December 21, 2011

Yesterday, MLive reported on a new study that looked at the economic impact of ArtPrize this past fall.

The report was prepared by the Anderson Economic Group, which was contracted by the local group Experience Grand Rapids. The 37-page report provides an overview of the findings, attendance, attendance experience, economic impact analysis, quality of life benefits, cultural and long-term benefits.

The MLive article provides a brief summary of the findings and cites only three sources, a consultant with the Anderson Economic Group, the VP of marketing for Experience GR and the executive director of ArtPrize.

The MLive article doesn’t question the findings of the report or ask any independent questions of the sources cited. Instead, the story essentially communicates the message that downtown art event was an economically beneficial to Grand Rapids.

The commissioned report defines economic impact as the new economic activity directly or indirectly caused by ArtPrize. This excludes any activity associated with Art- Prize that merely replaces or displaces other economic activity in the region. The net benefits provide a true measure of the economic activity that would not have occurred without ArtPrize.

Some of the data shows that about 73% of those who attended traveled from outside of Grand Rapids and 31% traveled from outside of Kent & Ottawa County. The report also states that $15.4 million was generated directly because of ArtPrize and $4.6 million in new earnings for local households.

The data provided by the Anderson Economic Group certainly supports the normal arguments for the benefits of ArtPrize, which is that it is a great economic stimulator for Grand Rapids. However, the report and most news reporting on the local art extravaganza does not ask fundamental questions about which entities & individuals were the beneficiaries of the money spent by attendees and the ArtPrize organization.

As we have reported before, the primary beneficiaries of money spent by attendees were hotel owners, parking lot owners, downtown restaurants, bars and other retails shops.  While one could add that wait staff may have made more money in tips during this time, the bulk of the money made from attendee spending went to a small group of business owners in downtown Grand Rapids.

When looking at the money spent by ArtPrize as an organization, the Anderson report states the bulk of this money was spent on local resources. This is a true statement, but incomplete. It’s incomplete in that a great deal of the money that ArtPrize spent went to a small circle of businesses, many of which are either owned by the DeVos family or closely connected to the DeVos family as we pointed out in another recent article based on 2010 filings. This is one area in which the Anderson report falls short, in that it does not qualify who the economic beneficiaries are. They do report that $4.6 million in new earnings for local households, but provide no analysis of who made up these local households.

The other main conclusion from the report in that ArtPrize provides long-term cultural benefits. The report identifies these benefits as ARTcation – where schools are bringing children on field trips to downtown Grand Rapids; University participation and the educational speaker series that was held during ArtPrize.

Providing children an opportunity to experience art is a valuable cultural experience, but ArtPrize is not the only cultural event in Grand Rapids that would be beneficial for children to be exposed to. In terms of local university participation the report concludes it was beneficial to students and the local campuses indentified. In contrast, there are local students and faculty that this writer has talked with that have a critical perspective of ArtPrize, which are not acknowledged in this report.

Lastly, the speaker series identified in the Anderson report consisted of eight separate events where a speaker or a panel spoke on issues related to ArtPrize. The report does not provide any details on the speaker series, but if the event we wrote about at GVSU was any indication of the quality of the speaker series then that conclusion should also be questioned.

The report concludes by stating that ArtPrize is beneficial to Grand Rapids because it makes it a stronger tourist destination “highlights the city’s ability to foster creativity and entrepreneurship.” This concluding comment in many ways sums up the real purpose of ArtPrize, which is to make money, particularly money for those who are disproportionately in a higher income bracket.

One Comment leave one →
  1. December 21, 2011 1:10 am

    Having come back from a trip to Europe again, this time to several cities of various sizes in the Czech Republic, I am once more struck at how hard American cities struggle to get people to come in and walk around their business districts and main streets, while cities in Europe are, on the whole, full of pedestrians, loose and heavy gatherings of people wandering and meeting and having fun almost every day and night of the year. And they seem to accomplish this effortlessly.

    Aside from a few American cities, or areas in American cities, that buck the trend, the obtuse nature of their efforts to create a reason to come into town always seem to revolve around a few short and overly calculated events heavily subsidized by some philanthropist native son or another that, if successful, bring almost uncomfortable hoards into the center city areas for up to a week or so. Then, the event is declared a success, the over-packed throngs disappear and the downtowns once again sink back into their semi-dissolute and deserted normal appearances.

    It is interesting that these philanthropists are on the whole hyper-neo-capitalist Republicans. While they never fail to sponsor and subsidize some hair brain scheme or another that may or may not successfully give the downtown merchants and service providers a much needed boost infrequently through the year, they are most disdainful of subsidizing basic services, guaranteed income, and efficient transportation systems that would deliver people into their main squares, restaurants and hotels and shops every night and day. The transportation systems alone in Europe bristle with people at all hours of the day and night. Trams, Streetcars, Subways and buses, easier to use even in places with languages completely foreign than almost any transportation system in the States, are busy with people. While there is sometimes difficulty making them pay for themselves, they prove to be more than successful in how they give cities the authentic feel of being lived in and played in every day.

    Interesting enough is the fact that the only downtown area in any city in Michigan, not heavily dominated by a University, that has an active day and night downtown all year may be Traverse City… and that is largely through the efforts of uber-leftist Michael Moore.

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