The economic argument is being used increasingly by arts institutions as they assert their role as economic engines, and New York’s Metropolitan Museum is at the forefront of trumpeting its power in the realm of tourism.

Last Friday, the Metropolitan Museum announced that their three summer show, Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations, Tomás Saraceno on the Roof: Cloud City, and The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde generated an:

” … estimated $781 million in spending by regional, national, and foreign tourists to New York, according to a visitor survey the Museum released today. Using the industry standard for calculating tax revenue impact, the study found that the direct tax benefit to the City and State from out-of-town visitors to the Museum for the season totaled some $78.1 million.”

The number is roughly 14% less than the $908 million last year’s visitors generated, when the museum hosted the blockbuster Alexander McQueen show, but the 2012 number is 25% higher than the $593 million generated in 2009 and 22% higher than 2008’s $610 million total.

The Metropolitan Museum survey highlights the fact that cultural institutions are emphasizing the financial benefits of their activities perhaps as a way to ensure that arts aren’t impacted when local or state politicians are eager to cut budgets. Last month, Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney told Fortune Magazine he’d slash arts funding if elected.

This summer, Detroit-area voters agreed to allow their tax dollars to go towards saving the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA). The Detroit issue attracted national attention as many museum directors were quietly watching the campaign with great interest and wondering if similar measures could be considered in their regions. One museum director Hyperallergic spoke with, who asked to remain anonymous, said that if the vote didn’t pass many people were privately discussing that the DIA’s future would’ve been bleak and could’ve led to massive deaccessioning in order to pay the bills. In the run up to the Detroit vote, ArtsServe Michigan released data that announced that every dollar invested in the arts yields $51 for the state economy.

The Met survey also revealed interesting facts about the role the museum plays in the plans of area tourist. According to the survey, which used a scale of one to 10 to gauge responses, 26% of visitors said the museum’s summer shows were quite important in motivating them to visit New York (8 or above), and 51% said that the Met in general was an important reason they visited the city (8 or above).

In a statistic that shouldn’t surprise any Met visitor, 47% of summer visitors to the Metropolitan Museum were international visitors, while 23% were from the Tri-State area (NY, NJ, CT) and 30% were from other regions of the United States.

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.

6 replies on “Met Museum Estimates Their Summer Shows “Stimulated” NYC to the Tune of $781M”

  1. Lets measuring everything in dollars because our calculators are so much bigger than our hearts!!!

  2. I’m interested to see how the overall zeitgeist for the fiscal-instrumentalization of the arts pans out for communities banking on “creative economy” initiatives, and what the lasting impact is on budget-writers. I’d love it if it were true, especially for communities and states whose museums don’t have the prestige and endowments anywhere close to the Met (not to mention the other art spaces and non-profits in New York that struggle in the shadows of the giants). But I find it hard to believe that anyone not already supporting the arts at a public policy level is buying it.

    Although I support organizations defending their tax statuses by emphasizing they are revenue-generators for their regions, I feel like it smacks of “trickle down,” and one could flip the argument in some way to suggest the money invested in these institutions (and their inevitable bureaucracies) could be more directly offered to the surrounding region through breaks for middle- or lower-income taxpayers or businesses.

    It seems like the whole creative economy thing set some valuable precedents for communicating economic value, but it’s not building audiences or turning skeptics into supportive policy-makers, which only thoughtful discussions of quality of life and place, and the importance of shared intellectual endeavors, can truly do.

    1. I think you raise a good point, one that I think about a lot. I’m all for trumpeting the economic value of arts, and I do think they have some, but I also wonder if it’s a way of avoiding the larger discussion that no one wants to have, because they know they will lose/not successfully convince the other sides. This, of course, is the discussion you mention—about quality of life and place, the importance of shared intellectual endeavors, etc.
      Then again, if many people are primarily thinking about economics these days (and who can blame them?), maybe it makes sense to continue to engage them on that level.

      1. You’re right, it’s important now to hold court on the economic points or risk looking completely out of touch. It’s super difficult to explain the place the arts can occupy within a community, the value added for individuals and families. The best I can usually come up with is to relate it to the place of athletics.

        Athletics exist in the average young person’s life through some kind of PE class, which is typically dull and a kind of a joke, and the experience of extracurriculars and teams, whether as participants or spectators. The experience of the latter brings the whole experience to a different level, earning it significance as character and skill-building, and a place where myriad important social and interpersonal exchanges take place.
        I think it’s a shame that our experience of the arts never extends beyond the PE status in most communities. For most fans, sports are not purely about athletics, but the experience as a spectator, the experience of awe in another’s virtuoso, the opportunity for discussions with family and strangers, and the opportunity to organize social bonding time around said events. Art institutions offer a similar experience (minus the adrenaline, I suppose). The difference is the “sports spectator habit” starts young, whereas for many an “art spectator habit” is discovered later, if at all.

        Considering most kids now carry a music/video/picture/writing/communicating machine in their hand, it shouldn’t be hard to establish a precedent for social, extracurricular creative participation and/or spectatorship.

        Then again I’ve been out of school for a decade, so I’m probably right about due for some kids/education/”p.s. I don’t know anything about kids or education” ranting. Get off my porch, sports!

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