Report: Missoula’s arts and culture nonprofits generate $54M in annual economic activity

Betsy Mulligan-Dague, the executive director of the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center in Missoula, sorts the organization’s fair-trade store in Missoula on Thursday. A new report by the Americans for the Arts found that Missoula’s arts and cultural nonprofits generated $54 million in economic activity in 2015. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

It’s a quiet Thursday morning down at the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center on Higgins Avenue, where Betsy Mulligan-Dague settles in from a multi-week cultural exchange in Thailand.

The nonprofit, one of many to call Missoula home, has been here for 23 years, helping establish the Garden City as a hub of arts and culture – a local industry that generates more than $54 million in annual economic activity, according to a new report.

“Missoula is such a nice, diverse city with a lot of offerings that draw people here,” said Mulligan-Dague. “It’s a good city for diversity, and people have a lot of options.”

The “Arts and Economic Prosperity” report, released this week by Americans for the Arts, found that the nonprofits behind Missoula’s arts and culture generated $54 million in annual economic activity in 2015, supporting more than 1,900 jobs and generating $4.4 million for state and local government.

That, according to the five-year report, makes the industry an active contributor to the city’s business community. It also places Missoula well ahead of the national average, both in the money spent by local arts and culture nonprofits, and money spent by the residents who support the organizations.

“This says what we kind of knew already and what we felt in Missoula,” said Tom Bensen, executive director of Arts Missoula. “When you compare the figures to other communities our size, we’re much larger. We have a very healthy arts and culture community.”

According to the report, which is now in its fifth iteration, Missoula’s arts and culture nonprofits spent more than $20 million in Fiscal Year 2015, the year in which the study was conducted.

That funding pays employees, buys supplies and fills contracts for service within the community. Combined, those dollars generated $16.7 million in household income for local residents and provided $1.5 million to state and local government.

“Nonprofits are a business and have to run as a business, but it’s a very decentralized industry,” Bensen said. “There’s no annual report or single CEO, and there’s no campus. But this gives us some numbers to go on. The rising tide lifts all boats.”

To make its findings, Americans for the Arts collected data from 34 local nonprofits in arts and culture, including detailed budget information. The study also looked at the economic impact of spending and found that in Missoula, attendees spent an average of $25.99 per event.

As a result, audience expenditures in Missoula topped $33.6 million in 2015, well above the national average of $18.8 million. Roughly 80 percent of attendees were local residents while 20 percent were nonresidents.

An audience survey also asked attendees what they would have done if the event they were seeking was not taking place in Missoula. More than 34 percent said they’d travel to a different city to partake in a similar event.

“There’s a lot that’s happening that’s tangential to this,” Bensen said. “There’s a growth spurt that’s happening in the arts and entertainment world, and it’s a reflection that Missoula is in a growth spurt as well. There’s a number of folks taking information like this and planning how to market Missoula. It’s becoming an active place for outside visitors.”

Bensen believes the city’s quality of life also contributed to Missoula’s strong showing in the latest study.

“People chose to live here and stay here,” he said. “There’s so much to do beyond arts and culture, and having the University of Montana has a lot to do with it. It gives Missoula its flare and it’s what makes us distinctive from the rest of the state.”

For Mulligan-Dague, arts and culture soothes the soul.

“In these times, art and creativity are our best tools in dealing with an uncertain world and lot of anxieties,” she said. “It’s very healing.”

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at info@missoulacurrent.com