Arts and culture are bringing big bucks to Alachua County – while they provide us with a plethora of venues to enlighten and entertain, they also are fueling our economy.
“The arts are one of the key (economic) components,” said John Pritchard, assistant director of Visit Gainesville. “Whether it is a festival or live performances or art displays, they bring people into the community from the outside in addition to getting local residents to spend money as well.”
Take your pick: the Hoggetowne Medieval Faire, the Spring Arts Festival, the Downtown Festival & Art Show, the Fine Arts Hall at Santa Fe College, community theaters like the Hippodrome, the Gainesville Community Playhouse or the whole of the University of Florida Performing Arts program. Combined, the arts generate tens of millions of dollars and support thousands of jobs in the area.
According to a study by Americans for the Arts, more than $85 million was spent on arts and culture in Alachua County in fiscal 2010. The study showed $32.3 million spent by organizations and another $53.2 million by audiences, supporting 2,344 equivalent full-time jobs in the county.
The study is scheduled to update in 2015, and is expected to show that the numbers have gone up.
The Downtown Festival & Art Show
Take just one example. When the study was done, the upcoming Downtown Festival & Art Show, which marks its 32nd anniversary this year, was already a well-known and well-respected event. But this year, the festival, set for Nov.16 and 17, jumped up into the rankings as one of the top 10 art festivals in the country.
“The show is ranked No.10 as (the) best fine arts show in the country and is based on the opinions of the artists themselves,” said Linda Piper, Gainesville Cultural Affairs events coordinator. “We know our community supports the arts and looks forward to coming.”
“The art show is a nationally recognized event that attracts some of the best artists in America. Art lovers numbering nearly 100,000 visitors come from all over the Southeast,” Piper said. “The festival provides people with an opportunity to begin their holiday shopping in a wonderful community atmosphere..”
But that’s not Gainesville’s only big festival event.
Hoggetowne Medieval Faire
Piper, who has been putting together cultural events for the city for two decades, is already engaged in planning the Hoggetowne Medieval Faire.
“I always say Orlando has Disney and Gainesville has Hoggetowne. We consider it a theme park,” she said.
Over half of the more than 55,000 people who attended the event last year came from outside of Alachua County
“They come from Miami, Georgia and Louisiana. They come for the weekend and stay in our hotel rooms,” Piper said.
Similarly, all 165 artists, musicians and street performers are here for three weeks generating three weeks of hotel stays, restaurant meals and other shopping in the county.
This beloved Gainesville tradition will be held the last weekend in January and the first weekend in February at the Alachua County Fairgrounds.
Spring Arts Festival
In early April, Santa Fe College sponsors the aptly named Spring Arts Festival. Next year’s event is expected to draw 110,000 people to mark the festival’s 45th year, making it the longest-running arts festival in North Central Florida, said festival coordinator Kathryn Lehman.
Lehman anticipates that about 20,000 visitors from outside the county will attend the event. A study completed about 10 years ago found that the local economy experienced an overall tourism impact from the SF Spring Arts Festival of over $9 million. With the arts, she says, there is more.
“The economic impact of the arts is huge, but for many years people in the arts did not bother to express that to anyone,” she explained.
The University of Florida Performing Arts
The Alachua County Visitors Bureau estimates the economic impact of a day visitor is $55, said University of Florida Performing Arts Director Michael Blachly.
“During the 2012-2013 season, UFPA logged more than 7,000 out-of-county visits. The estimated economic impact of these visits is more than $385,000,” Blachly said.
And that doesn’t take into account visiting artists, crews and staff who also stay and play in Gainesville. Last year, UFPA presented 64 performing arts groups, ensembles and artists. In total, they accounted for more than 800 artists and accompanying staff who booked more than 1,100 hotel nights.
“A visitor who stays overnight has an estimated economic impact of $180. For the 900 artists and crew members who stayed in Gainesville during their tours, the total estimated economic impact is $162,000,” Blachly said
Other smaller events should also be taken into account such as the plays, performances and concerts offered at UFPA as well as the community venues and cultural institutions that are drawing people in for longer, perhaps permanent, stays.
“The arts and culture make Alachua County special in terms of the population size with the varied options available to our public,” Blachly said.
The Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art, the Florida Museum of Natural History and the Gainesville Orchestra are some of the offerings Blachly highlighted as unique to the area.
And then there are those things that go beyond the economy and just make people feel good, something that Lehman says is a real draw for those who attend the Santa Fe College Spring Arts Festival.
“It’s bigger than the arts…People tell me they met their partner, their husband or wife there … they see all their old friends. Someone referred to it as ‘Gainesville’s Easter Parade’,” Lehman said. “After 9/11, it really brought to my mind how important it is to have times and places that we gather. We need each other and we need to have times to be together in a positive way.”
And certainly the growing arts and culture scene in Alachua County is a way to do just that.