Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Show 'em the Money: Getting Good Data on the Economic Impact of Museums

Today I attended the Leadership Forum at the end of the Conference. The panelists spoke on "Heritage as a Catalyst for Community Revitalization." In the Q&A section, you could hear the frustration--and the opportunities--in the need for all of us who work in cultural institutions to demonstrate the tangible, economic impact to our communities. Michael Loveday made the same point in his keynote address this morning.

As was noted in the discussion at the Leadership Forum, we are often very good at sharing our passion for the importance of our respective missions but we aren't as good at expressing the economic benefits of our institutions. If that's true of individual institutions, it's even more so of museums in the aggregate. AAM has done done an admirable job in providing data for the national economic economic impact and encourages museums to complete an economic impact statement for members' respective institutions, all found here.

But what about for Virginia? Or for regions of Virginia? Do we have the kinds of economic impact studies that would give us the ability to "show the money" to legislators, county boards of supervisors, city councils, and the like? VTC has data that shows the economic impact of tourism, and you can break this down by county or city, but I can't find any data that would parse that information with regard to museums. You can see what they offer here. It's good stuff, in the aggregate, but not exactly what we need to create a set of talking points.

Is it time for VAM, VTC, VCA, VFH (or V-somebody else?) to commission such an economic impact statement? The most recent ones I could find, after a brief online search, are ten years old (or nearly ten years old). There are probably newer ones for specific regions or for specific institutional types (i.e., art museums, science centers, etc.) but we need to have economic impact statements for all types. If one way that we can be more successful in our advocacy is to speak with one voice about our economic influence, then we need data that can be aggregated for localities, regions, and for statewide.

Any thoughts on where this data is or how we can go about getting it? Can you show me where I can see the money?

I plan on raising this issue to my fellow VAM Council members for discussion at our May meeting.

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