Study pegs Muskegon arts, culture impact at nearly $100M

Figures for the past three years include a virtual zero for 2020 due to pandemic.
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Courtesy Carla Flanders

A study initiated by the Muskegon Arts and Culture Coalition (MACC) and conducted by Visit Muskegon reveals a significant impact on Muskegon County’s economy over the past few years from arts and cultural events.

The study, which covers the economic impact of artistic and cultural institutions during the calendar years 2019 and 2021, looked at estimates compiled from information gleaned through surveys, attendance estimates, and other business data collected from 10 arts and culture organizations and 12 festivals taking place in Muskegon County during those years.

The year 2020 was omitted from the study, as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic affected the county’s ability to host events.

According to the MACC, in 2019 arts and cultural institutions and festivals in Muskegon County contributed over $56.48 million to the county economically, as surveys conducted by Visit Muskegon detailed. The number dipped to $41.75 million in 2021, an income that still is not insignificant given the complications COVID-19 brought to those industries.

Lakeshore Art Festival director Carla Flanders attributed the success of Muskegon’s cultural and artistic institutions through two of what have proven to be some of the most economically difficult years across the country to the interest Muskegon residents have in enriching themselves through new and unique experiences, especially after the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think in 2021 there was just a lot of pent-up excitement about getting out into the community and doing things that people hadn’t been able to do in 18 months,” Flanders said. “So, they came (out). A lot of the arts and culture festivals that we have are outdoors, so that was helpful as well.”

The estimates not only included lodging revenues and visitor spending, but also the budgets of the arts and cultural institutions within Muskegon County. Together, these institutions employed 117 full-time and 799 part-time employees in 2019, and 102 full-time and 535 part-time employees in 2021.

These numbers were found through attendance estimates provided by the MACC to Visit Muskegon, which looked at variables such as event distance by ZIP code, multi-day/overnight festival attendance costs such as parking and hotel rooms, and festival and institution budgets. Through this information and more, Visit Muskegon was able to estimate a number to represent how cultural and artistic institutions have affected the county economically.

“Arts and cultural institutions in Muskegon County are the fabric of our community,” said Bob Lukens, director of Visit Muskegon. “They employ scores of full-time professionals and part-time employees to bring their programs, exhibitions, tours and concerts to local residents and our ever-increasing numbers of visitors.”

More than 60,000 visitors to arts and cultural institutions and festivals spent the night in Muskegon in 2019, and 35,000 overnights in 2021 were attributed to arts and cultural institutions and festivals in Muskegon County.

This study also showed the importance of festivals with an estimation of over $2.4 million in admission revenues and more than 248,000 attendees in 2019, and over $1.2 million in admission revenues and 170,000 attendees in 2021. While some local festivals are not included in these estimates, they do represent the majority of such events in Muskegon.

“As you can imagine, festivals were hit hard in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic,” Lukens said. “Some — but not all — of our annual festivals took place in 2021, with the attendance numbers reflecting the lingering uncertainty of the pandemic. Fortunately, the summer of 2022 is expected to be a banner year for festival attendance.”

According to Flanders, the study was prompted, in part, by a desire to help locals and tourists alike realize and appreciate what Muskegon has to offer.

“(The) intention was to just really recognize the value of arts and culture in our community (and) the economic impact that it brings,” Flanders said. “Also, how it helps out with business attraction and business retention and the livability of our community.

“We are a smaller town on the lake, but really, we have so many amenities that our people are looking for in a place to live, work and play. Not only do we have the beach and great outdoor spaces and great dining and entertainment, but we bring that other element (of arts) that not a lot of other communities that our size might have, which includes the art museum, which is one of the most recognized museums of its size in the country.”

Government leaders are assigning more importance to arts and culture in communities.

“As government leaders work to position their cities and states for a post-pandemic recovery, new research shows why they should look to the arts as an essential tool in their economic recovery arsenal,” said Andy Buelow, MACC founding member and director of the West Michigan Symphony. “Arts and culture have been key to the revitalization of our region for decades, and they will be pivotal in the post-COVID recovery economy. The Creative State Michigan Report by Creative Many found that the arts accounted for $2.5 billion in state tourism revenues — more than professional sporting events, golf, boating and sailing, hunting and fishing, hiking and biking combined.”

Muskegon boasts a robust artistic and cultural range of attractions, from art fairs and festivals to theater productions, symphonies, a variety of Victorian-era homes and gardens to explore, 15 indoor and outdoor museums and 14 libraries. It also has more than 60 pieces of art on display in public spaces along the lakeshore, as well as 26 miles of Lake Michigan beaches.

The MACC, comprised of local arts and culture leaders, works to promote and celebrate these events and locations to help support the county’s artistic and cultural community. MACC collectively employs hundreds of residents, generates millions of dollars of annual economic activity and acts as a catalyst for attraction and retention. MACC entities include the Arts Council of White Lake Nuveen Center, Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp, Frauenthal Center, Hackley Library, James Jackson Museum of African American History, Lakeshore Art Festival, Lakeshore Museum Center, Muskegon Area District Library, Muskegon Civic Theatre, Muskegon Community College, Muskegon Museum of Art, The Playhouse at White Lake and West Michigan Symphony.

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