It All Adds up – Economic Value of Arts and Culture

A diverse and thriving arts and culture sector is vital to the vibrancy and attractiveness of every global city. With world class talent in music, screen, live acting, and other performing and visual arts the arts and culture sector traditionally contribute over $17 billion to the NSW economy, and provides some 150,000 direct and indirect jobs. In NSW, every dollar expended on arts, screen and cultural activities puts an amazing $1.68 back into the economy.

From a tourism perspective, the cultural tourist is the jewel in the crown with this high spending group not only enjoying Sydney’s theatres, cultural institutions, and performances but also frequenting the city’s restaurants, cafes, and accommodation offerings.

The $344 million expansion of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the Sydney Modern Project, is the largest public-private partnership of its kind in Australia. The economic benefits of the $244 million investment by the NSW Government is expected to be more than $1 billion over the next twenty-five years, including the creation of 242 full-time jobs. The strong economic value of the Project is also reflected by the unprecedented philanthropic support, exceeding its fundraising target of $100 million to support construction of the new building.

The economic benefits of arts and culture are not isolated to projects at the scale of Sydney Modern. An analysis of the Theatre Economy in 2020 highlights that what you see on stage is simply the tip of the iceberg. The performer is enabled, supported and brought to life by thousands of people from production and creative, professional technicians, photographers, and designers to venue managers and operations staff, legal and accounts, and ticketing agencies and that is before you take into account the wider uplift from cafes, restaurants, travel and accommodation.

In fact, the economic value of arts is infused into the overall fabric of the economy creating and curating employment, tourism, and activity. It also props up the financial capacity of the State with valuable assets, such as the collection of the Art Gallery of NSW, sitting on the State balance sheet contributing to the Government’s AAA credit rating.

The recently launched NSW 24-hour Economy Strategy recognises the interdependency between the economy and the arts and culture. Leveraging galleries, museums, theatres, music, song, dance, and performance across Sydney there is the opportunity to create an array of vibrant diverse cultural experiences that appeal to all ages, demographics, and tastes. These experiences need not be limited to those within a venue, but they can spill out into the public domain enhancing both access and opportunity to the plethora of current and emerging talent that resides within this sector.

Co-operation, collaboration and commitment across Federal, State, and local government and the sector is critical, especially because of the Covid restrictions, to retain and sustain the economic value of arts and culture. To keep the doors open, the businesses alive and the talent retained there needs to be a collective effort to reduce restrictions, remove red tape, take on new ways of working, improve transport options and change the narrative.

‘Building back better’ from Covid means fostering a renewed, vibrant, and diverse arts and culture sector that is uniquely Sydney and internationally renowned. It means making sure that the State’s economy can continue to be strong.

Sydney Business Chamber held an online forum with Dr Michael Brand, Director, Art Gallery NSW and Bethwyn Serow, Executive Director of the Australian Major Performing Arts Group, on 16 September 2020. Hear more in the podcast.

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