Missoula earns national accolades for its ‘arts vibrancy’

“The region has a full and diverse event schedule, great engagement through volunteerism, and overall tremendous community support,” says the new report. (Katy Spence/Missoula Current)

Missoula picked up another accolade for its commitment to the arts Wednesday, this time from Southern Methodist University’s Center for Arts Research.

In its fourth annual Arts Vibrancy Index, Missoula ranked No. 10 among medium-sized cities (population 100,000 to 1 million) for its supply, demand and government support for the arts.

“Arts vibrancy is dynamic, not static,” the center’s director, Zannie Voss, said in announcing the rankings. “Arts and cultural organizations are well distributed across the country, serving communities both poor and affluent, rural and urban, not just on the coasts and not just in major metropolitan markets,”

It is Missoula’s second appearance on the Arts Vibrancy Index, which analyzes the “arts and culture ecosystem” in more than 900 communities nationwide.

The researchers consider the local mix of arts providers (individual artists, arts and cultural organizations, arts and entertainment firms), community arts dollars (program revenue, contributions, program expenses, salaries) and government support (local, state and federal arts grants), according to Tom Bensen, executive director of Arts Missoula.

“This study is further evidence of the strength of Missoula’s arts and culture sector,” he said. “Our ranking in this newest Arts Vibrancy Index is indeed quite an honor.”

Bensen has devoted considerable effort in recent years in quantifying the economic impact of Missoula’s arts community.

“Missoula’s nonprofit arts sector is a $54 million industry – nearly three times that of other communities the same size,” he reported in Montana Business Quarterly, a UM publication. “Of that, $20.4 million is direct impact and $33.6 million represented spending by audiences beyond the cost of admission.”

There’s more: “Missoula’s nonprofit arts sector contributed $39.2 million in household income and $4.4 million is state and local revenue in 2015 – supporting 1,913 full-time jobs,” Bensen said. “That number is comparable to Missoula’s more recognizable employers, specifically the University of Montana, Community Medical Center and St. Patrick Hospital.”

Wednesday’s report pairs each listed community’s scores with a narrative of what makes it unique and dynamic.

“Missoula has an engaged and active population who are just as likely to participate in outdoor recreation as they are to go to the symphony or attend a theater production,” the report says. “It ranks in the top 9 percent or better of cities on every Arts Provider measure.”

The vibrancy index makes specific mention of Missoula’s First Friday gallery walks, Missoula Symphony Orchestra, the many festivals (music, film, literary, theater, dance and cultural), the new Kettlehouse Amphitheater and the University of Montana.

“Although there is no designated arts district, more than 60 nonprofit arts and cultural organizations operate in Missoula; a
handful are nationally known, most notably the Missoula Children’s Theatre, but most are small,” the report says.

“Missoula’s museums are diverse, ranging from the National Museum of Mountain Flying and the Rocky Mountain Museum of Military History to the Montana Museum of Art & Culture and the Missoula Art Museum.”

Also on the vibrancy index’s radar is Missoula’s burgeoning entertainment industry, including big-ticket concerns at UM’s Washington-Grizzly Stadium and Adams Center, but also the local outdoor amphitheaters.

“The region has a full and diverse event schedule, great engagement through volunteerism, and overall tremendous community support,” the report says.

The vibrancy index authors made special note this year of the threats to eliminate federal arts funding and tax law changes that are expected to affect charitable giving.

“This climate of uncertainty makes it more important than ever to acknowledge and celebrate the essential role that arts and culture play in making communities throughout the country more vibrant places to live and visit,” Voss said. “Creativity is a desirable and necessary element for an innovative and thriving community.

“Aside from being an engine of job creation and economic growth, arts and culture contribute to social well-being and are essential to creating more livable, safe, memorable and connected communities.”

“The new Vibrancy Report once again demonstrates the dynamic power of the arts sector in America and how it ‘lives’ and thrives all over our vast nation,” said Karen Brooks Hopkins, NCAR’s Nasher Haemisegger Fellow. “The field continues to be under immense pressure for resources, but as the Vibrancy Report indicates, despite the challenges, arts programs and organizations are important tools in community revitalization.”

Here’s a look at Missoula’s competition for the Top 10 ranking.

Medium Cities

Three communities with populations of 100,000 to 1 million are new to the Top 10 medium city list: Omaha-Council Bluffs, NE-IA; Durham-Chapel Hill, NC; and Rapid City, SD. They are ranked No. 6, No. 7 and No. 8, respectively. In addition, Traverse City, MI, which was included in 2016 but not 2017, returned to the list this year at #4. The top five list is as follows:

  1. Santa Fe, NM
  2. Pittsfield, MA
  3. San Rafael, CA
  4. Traverse City, MI
  5. Asheville, NC
  6. Omaha-Council Bluffs, NE, IA
  7. Durham-Chapel Hill, NC
  8. Rapid City, SD
  9. Burlington-South Burlington, Vt.
  10. Missoula, MT