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Fort Worth’s art scene generated at least $507M in spending, according to national study

Visit Fort Worth describes the MAIN ST. Fort Worth Arts Festival as the “largest and most popular annual event” held downtown.
Marcheta Fornoff
Fort Worth Report
Visit Fort Worth describes the MAIN ST. Fort Worth Arts Festival as the “largest and most popular annual event” held downtown.

Arts organizations across the country generated $151.7 billion in economic activity in fiscal year 2022. In Fort Worth, arts organizations generated $507 million in spending, according to a recent study by Americans for the Arts.

The social and economic impact study collected data from more than 350 communities across the country, including from 74 nonprofit organizations in Fort Worth.

“When we invest in the arts, we’re not investing in a frill or an extra … we’re investing in an industry,” said Randy Cohen, vice president of research at Americans for the Arts. “It’s drawing people to the community. Putting heads in beds, cheeks in seats, derrieres in cafe chairs, right? So a vibrant arts community is good for local businesses.”

Cohen noted that while those figures are impressive, they are an undercount.

“We take a very conservative approach to economic impact. We surveyed over 200 organizations in the (Fort Worth) community, and we heard back from 74 of them, so that’s the data we go with,” he said. “We only use data from the organizations that provide it … so, there’s still even more out there.”

In Fort Worth, 49% of that spending came from arts organizations paying salaries, taxes and other expenses; audiences made up the remaining 51%. Dallas generated $853 million, San Antonio reported $295 million, Houston clocked in at $1.3 billion and local data was not available for Austin. San Jose, California, which has a population similar to Fort Worth, recorded $292 million.

After the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily shuttered some venues and permanently closed others, the survey results provide ample reasons to be hopeful, Cohen said.

“Arts organizations, they were the first to close and the last to open. They’re working their way back. 2022 was sort of the beginning of the rebound. I’m sure all those numbers are larger if you were to do the study again today,” he said.

“But you know what?” he continued. “This shows — even in an economy challenged by the pandemic — the study shows the arts and culture industry, it’s getting people out of their homes. They’re spending money at local businesses and reconnecting, as a community.”

On average, local Tarrant County arts attendees spent $39.84 and nonlocal attendees spent $57.10 per event on top of the price of admission. The lion’s share of this spending was for food and drink but also included shopping, child care, local transportation and lodging.

“I think that Americans for the Arts does a terrific job in the arts and economic prosperity reports in articulating direct impact as well as indirect impact,” Zannie Voss, director of SMU DataArts, said. “We may be nonprofits, but in many respects, we are economic entities that generate services that employ people, that pay taxes, that enliven downtowns and, you know, create a sense of a gathering place in communities where others may not exist.”

In her research at SMU, Voss has found that while the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way audiences engage with the arts, there is reason to be hopeful.

“What we are seeing now is another bright spot, is the organizations that we’re currently studying hired 19% more artists in 2023 than they did in 2019,” Voss said. “So, there is this real sense of excitement and enthusiasm now that doors are open, of getting back to the making and the presenting of art.”

Wesley Gentle, executive director and president of the nonprofit Arts Fort Worth, said these impact numbers show the importance of investing in the arts.

“(The arts are) one of the first things to get cut, one of the first places people go in conversations about where we can scale back,” Gentle said. “I think those who are entertaining that thought need to realize that, when they go back on supporting these groups, there’s a return on investment that they’re reducing because there’s less activity being supported, less (tax) return to our state and local government.”

Beyond that, Voss, Gentle and Cohen pointed to the additional, nonmonetary value that the arts can bring to a community. Cohen specifically mentioned the nearly 90% of respondents who said they would feel a sense of loss if a specific arts activity or venue was no longer in their community.

“What that says to me is that arts and culture is more than just a one-time, transactional experience. But, you know, for the people of Fort Worth, it’s part of their history, their heritage,” Cohen said. “It’s about where the community’s been, where it is and where it’s going, and those numbers were higher than the national averages.

“Taken together, what this shows is that the arts are not just nice. They’re necessary.”

Marcheta Fornoff covers arts and culture for the Fort Worth Report. Reach her at At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board. Read more about our editorial independence policyhere.

This article first appeared on Fort Worth Report and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.