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Arts proponents take on an early, uphill battle for more state funds.

Early Impression

The arts are a $1 billion industry in Virginia. That's the finding of a new economic impact report, which is being released in time to sway state legislators as they fight over a tight budget. Call it a billion-dollar arm twist. "Our major hope is that the General Assembly will say, 'Hey, it's a good investment for us to fund the Virginia Commission for the Arts, which in turn funds attractions around the state, which in turn generate money,'" says Roger Neathawk, executive director for Virginians for the Arts, the lobbying group that commissioned the study. The report, released last week, states that in 1999 cultural groups attracted nearly 30 million patrons and generated: $849 million for Virginia businesses. $342 million for Virginia tourism businesses such as hotels and restaurants through spending by out-of-town visitors. (Roughly half that sum was from visitors who came specifically to visit the arts; the other half came for another reason but took in the arts.) $447 million in income, directly and indirectly, for Virginia workers and entrepreneurs. $307 million in workers' incomes. 8,850 full- and part-time jobs. "When people really take a look at the study, they'll recognize more than ever the importance of the arts in economic development and in tourism," says June Britt, president of Virginians for the Arts. "We've never really had the facts and figures to back it up. And now we do." Republicans have the majority on the all-important Senate Finance and House Appropriations committees, and most back the governor's pledge to keep the car tax cut in place at any price, legislators say. Sen. John Chichester, R-Stafford, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, acknowledges that it will be a difficult year to find money for the arts. "We have grown 0.2 percent for the fiscal year so far. That is abysmal. It's not a pretty picture," Chichester says. "I'm not saying there's no chance. I haven't even gotten that far. We haven't gotten to the spending side yet." Chichester says the arts, in terms of economic impact, are as important as bringing a factory or a large corporation to Virginia. "It's invaluable," he says, "and we really need to highlight it more than we do." Richmond's Carpenter Center is one of the significant beneficiaries of state funding in the biennial budget. It received $1 million to buy the nearby Thalhimers building to expand the Carpenter Center as part of a proposed downtown arts complex. "We're confident the state is going to step forward with some more money to help finance" the expansion, says Joel Katz, executive director of the Carpenter Center. Katz, citing a Federal Reserve study, says the expansion is an investment with an attractive rate of return: "For every dollar we spend at the Carpenter Center, about two-and-a-half dollars go back to the community." The statewide economic-impact study was commissioned a year ago by Virginians for the Arts. It's the first extensive study of its kind in Virginia. The Wessex Group in Williamsburg conducted the report, led by two business professors at the College of William and Mary, Roy L. Pearson and Donald J. Messmer. The state has about 500 nonprofit arts and cultural organizations, and the study surveyed 297 of them. Theater and performing arts groups, dance companies, historical sites and art, history and science museums were among the institutions examined. Besides direct expenses, such as payroll and taxes, the study charted increases in sales, income or jobs for businesses that supply goods or services to the arts groups. It also looked at increased sales from household spending of the salaries earned by cultural employees. A 1993 report studied half the number of groups and looked only at direct spending. That report, compiled by the Virginia Employment Commission at the request of the state arts commission, resulted in less impressive numbers. It determined that 143 arts organizations provided 7,000 jobs and $60 million in salaries, and had a total economic impact of $148

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