Museum Advocacy Day
Museum Advocacy Day began yesterday and is in full swing today. Thousands of museum professionals have convened in Washington in the hopes of swaying legislators to continue supporting those federal agencies that fund cultural institutions. Here on Jones Street, our North Carolina legislators have also been grappling with recommendations to close museums around the state and to make further cuts to staff and budgets.
In the hopes of convincing leaders that cultural institutions are worthy of governmental support, staff at the American Association of Museums have backed up qualitative impressions about the value of museums with quantitative data:
In direct expenditures alone, museums annually inject more than $20 billion into the U.S. economy. America’s estimated 17,500 museums employ more than 400,000 individuals. And perhaps most compelling in these times of tightening local budgets – and the slash and burn approach to budgeting at the federal level — was a recent U.S. Council of Mayors study that found that, for every $1 invested in cultural institutions (including museums), municipalities saw $7 in tax revenues come into their coffers.
And that astounding return is due to the thriving cultural tourism industry in our country. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, cultural tourism accounts for $192 billion in economic activity annually. And many of those monies are spent with the local eateries, the local bed and breakfast, or the local gift shops in communities across the country.
And museums have long been cultural destinations in and of themselves. Trips including cultural and heritage activities comprise one of the most popular and significant segments of the travel industry, accounting for 23% of domestic trips. And clearly those trips generate economic activity for local businesses. Visitors to historic sites and cultural attractions, including museums, stay 53% longer and spend 36% more money than other kinds of tourists.
How do museums generate such economic benefits? Their enduring popularity continues to grow, as institutions diversify and engage communities. Nationwide, there are an estimated 850 million museum visits each year – that’s more than attendance at all professional sporting events and theme parks combined.
Assessments of the economic impacts of North Carolina’s cultural tourism are equally (and in some ways even more) impressive. Studies indicate that cultural tourists to NC spend twice as much as regular visitors. State University tourism research entities and our own Department of Cultural Resources need to continue to collect similar quantitative data about the rates of visitation (both local and out-of-state) and the economic impact of our state’s nearly 1,000 cultural heritage institutions as well as its huge variety of festivals and other cultural events. This evidence will help assure legislators that cultural funding is a smart investment in North Carolina’s communities and future.