Report points to city arts' economic impact

Artscape, book festival, Inner Harbor new year's celebration generated $36 million, it says

  • Baltimore's 2009 Artscape festival cost $860,000 to stage and generated nearly $26 million, according to a report coming out Monday.
Baltimore's 2009 Artscape festival cost $860,000 to… (Baltimore Sun file photo )
February 28, 2010|By Edward Gunts |

A trio of annual Baltimore events - Artscape, the book festival and the New Year's celebration at the Inner Harbor - generated an estimated $36 million in economic benefits during the past year, according to the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts.

The estimate, to be released Monday, is part of a more sophisticated effort to attract additional corporate sponsors and justify continued public subsidies for the events.

"The impact [of the three events], regionally, is huge," said Bill Gilmore, executive director of BOPA, a private, nonprofit organization that works exclusively for the city.

According to studies prepared for BOPA by Forward Analytics, a Pittsburgh market-research consulting firm:

•Baltimore's 2009 Artscape festival cost $860,000 and returned $25.97 million in art and food sales, taxes collected, hotel bookings and other revenues.

•The 2009 Baltimore Book Festival cost $162,000 and had an economic impact of $4.51 million.

•The 2010 New Year's celebration at the Inner Harbor cost $150,000, all privately underwritten, and generated $6.9 million, even though crowds were smaller than usual due to rainy weather.

Gilmore said he was pleasantly surprised by the findings, especially the numbers generated by Artscape, which the city bills as 'America's largest free arts celebration.'

"I was absolutely flabbergasted by the $26 million figure for Artscape. I just never dreamed that people spend $9 million with the vendors," he said. "In the old days, people used to call it 'Foodscape," because there was so much food, and in a way that turns out to be true. People spent $3.5 million on art and $4.3 million on food and beverages."

Financed with a mix of public and private funds, such events must increasingly rely on private support, given municipal budget constraints. The city also supports the events with assistance from its police, fire, transportation and solid waste departments, among others.

Gilmore said his office had attempted informally to calculate the economic impact in the past, but this is the first time a market research firm was hired to study the events as they were taking place.

He said the findings will be used to attract new corporate sponsors to the events and retain existing ones. The figures could also be used to show elected officials that tax revenues generated by the events more than offset the public funds spent on them, he said.

"We raise the majority of our money for these events through corporate sponsors and grants, and in today's world, you need to provide accurate and independent documentation to justify your existence and demonstrate a return on investment," he said.

From a marketing standpoint, the studies show that sponsorship is a "good buy" for participating companies, because festival-goers tend to remember them and say they will support them, Gilmore said. The corporate and public support, in turn, helps maintain the quality of the events and keep them free to the public, he explained.

"I'm very proud of that," said Gilmore.

According to Forward Analytics, Artscape drew an estimated 350,000 city residents and visitors in 2009. Spending by festival-goers from outside the area generated $350,950 in sales tax revenues for the state of Maryland.

People who came from outside the city spent $257,699 at local hotels, generating $20,677 in tax revenues to the city, and $78,868 in gas tax revenues for the state.

The Artscape study also showed that festival-goers recognize and appreciate the corporate sponsors, based on interviews conducted during the event.

It indicated that 72 percent of the respondents could name two or more of the festival's sponsors, and 64 percent said they would be likely to purchase products from them rather than from competitors that are not sponsors.

Baltimore's three-day book festival drew 55,000 visitors. The $162,000 budget included no money from the city, $12,829 from Maryland State Arts Council and the rest from private sponsors. Book vendors received $651,908 in sales, while food and beverage vendors received $620,252, and other vendors received $42,880.

The latest New Year's celebration drew an estimated 50,000 visitors, down from a typical crowd of 100,000. In most years, researchers said, the event's economic impact on the city would be nearly $14 million.

In Howard County, organizers of the popular Columbia Festival of the Arts have voiced concerns about whether they can hold the popular event this year, given the possibility of a cut in funding by the Columbia Association. No budget decisions have been reached.

Gilmore said officials in Baltimore have not discussed curtailing or canceling any of the city events, though there are indications that there may be less support from the city this year than in the past. Artscape will take place July 16 to 18. The book festival will be held September 24 to 26.

In each case, Gilmore said, the arts agency spends only what it has in its budget.

"I think some people have the impression that Artscape is a cash cow for us, but we won't spend what we don't bring in," he said. "Everything goes back to the festival."

The report will be available Monday on the BOPA Web site,

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