Valuing the intangible " art | AspenTimes.com
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Valuing the intangible " art

Jeff Murcko
Inside Business
Aspen, CO Colorado

Some figures recently came to my attention that somewhat startled me, albeit in the best possible way. According to a report published a while back by Americans for the Arts, there are over 168,000 arts-related organizations in the U.S. alone. Those organizations generate more than $134 billion in economic activity, 2 million artists and 40 million people who own original artwork.

Moreover, the report indicates that more people were attending museums “100 million ” than baseball, hockey and basketball events combined. When I ran these numbers by Lila Kanner, director of programs of Artadia, a nonprofit group who assists artists, she confirmed that they were not only very plausible, but that a couple of them are probably a bit low.

As public relations and marketing manager for the Aspen Art Museum (AAM), I find these analyses compelling, but not for the reasons one might think by just looking at my job description. For me, it’s because they support an unequivocal message that the title of the AAM’s local GrassRoots TV12 program is completely accurate: “Art Matters.”

In a recent AAM members’ magazine feature on the subject, Timberline Bank President Mike Taets gave some additional perspective on the local economic impact of the arts, but highlighting their less tangible monetary value with an interesting historical aside.

“As a person who makes a living serving the financial needs of the community, the arts matter to me because of the tremendous amount of dollars they generate to our local economy,” Taets said.

“I have heard reports that this number is now over $75 million per year. Whatever the number, it is huge … While defending public support of a new stadium in Minneapolis, Hubert Humphrey once said, ‘Without professional sports, Minneapolis is just a cold Omaha.’ I think the same analogy can be made using the arts, in Aspen, and any other ski resort in North America.”

With no offense intended to other ski towns, I couldn’t agree more with Taets. The point is that it’s not solely about a bottom line. It’s about art and the communities who value it.

My position at the AAM arises from my interest in art, and my investment in the notion that it carries important messages for which I am fortunate enough to be a conduit.

I am very pleased to be working in a community that values its arts institutions and specifically, to work at the AAM alongside our staff, board, members, patrons and donors who are as wholly invested in this notion as I am. Together, we are working to leave things better for the community than we found them.

John and Amy Phelan recently gave the AAM a tremendous gift which allows us to make admission to the AAM free. While there is an economic bottom line to this generous donation, the truly important element of it is that the Phelans know what it means for Aspen and its surrounding communities to have free and unlimited access to art.

The Phelans’ gift also is part of the museum’s larger dream to bring more art, artists and opportunities to Aspen. The ultimate realization of that dream also includes a new world-class art museum next to Galena Plaza ” a tangible place to experience art’s very real but intangible value. And free for everyone.


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