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Arts drive economies

Back Door Project murals like this one behind Northwest Wisconsin Community Services Agency at 1118 Tower Ave. used art to highlight alternative entrances to establishments along Tower Avenue during reconstruction work. The project has earned Superior a lot of statewide buzz, according to the Wisconsin Arts Board. Jed Carlson/

Nonprofit arts across the nation is a $166 billion enterprise that supports 4.6 million full-time equivalent jobs and generates $27.5 billion in government revenue — federal, state and local taxes and fees.

"It's not a number you would expect," said George Tzougros, director of the Wisconsin Arts Board. "It's a very conservative number because what it represents is nonprofit arts organizations and their audiences. What it doesn't represent is the work of Hollywood, Broadway, the individual arts."

Staff from the Wisconsin Arts Board and Arts Wisconsin were in Superior to meet with the Superior Council for the Arts and Superior Business Improvement District on Tuesday. Following the meeting, they presented the findings of a 2015 economic impact study of the arts to the Superior City Council.

In Wisconsin, $659 million is spent on the arts and supports 26,000 jobs.

"We are blessed in this state to have incredibly creative people who make their living in a creative way," said Anne Katz, director of Arts Wisconsin. "There's a huge economic impact and a human impact ... they happen to be good for the economy, education and quality of life."

The most recent figures, when compared to previous studies — conducted in 2005 and 2010 — show continuous growth even through the recession, Tzougros said.

"In 2010, that would have been just after the great recession and there was still growth in the arts community," he said.

And there are many arts activities happening in Superior, said Karen Goeschko, assistant director for programs and services with the Wisconsin Arts Board.

"The Superior Council for the Arts has been doing a lot of great, thoughtful work in figuring out how they can invest in more of those efforts," Goeschko said.

Projects have included the Phantom Art Galleries, which used vacant storefronts downtown to display art, and the Back Door Project, which utilized art to highlight alternative entrances to local businesses during the reconstruction of Tower Avenue.

"The 'city of Superior' is spoken a lot around the state ... by local agencies that are dealing with state highway projects," Goeschko said. "And they're fascinated by the Back Door Project, especially ... kudos to the work that's been done."

Public opinion supports the arts as well, Tzougros said. He said 82 percent of Americans say the arts and culture are important to business.

"The Bureau of Economic Analysis of the Department of Commerce — the great economists of the United States — have now started to look at the arts and culture service programs," Tzougros said. "And what did they say? They looked at those things and they found out that the arts and culture — nonprofit, for profit, independent artists — are a $730 billion industry for our country, 4.2 percent of the gross domestic product."

Tzougros said the arts are often perceived as a charity, a black hole where money is thrown in and get nothing in return, but nothing could be further from the truth.

"When you're looking at the arts, you're not looking at them as an economic driver, but the reality is they are," Tzougros said.