The Beat: Mapping the Arts Ecosystem
A landscape of diversity and innovation
When I first arrived in Portland my challenge was to get a sense of the arts ecosystem here.
- who’s making and presenting art
- who’s participating with arts
- where are arts happening, and
- what resources are fueling our arts and culture scene.
There’s been a lot of discussion nationally about mapping cultural assets and diagramming arts ecosystems, but getting a clear picture can be a challenge. Like those cartographers who mapped the Pacific coast, who would have long stretches of unknown, the challenge of mapping the arts is finding one’s way through the tangles and underbrush and up and down ridges and across streams – asking around, wandering around, reading, listening and finding ways to capture information. Each new bit of information changes the way the earlier information is put together…so it takes time and a bit of patience to fill in the map. These explorations take a bit of courage like the adventurers of old Meriweather Lewis and William Clark.
I haven’t been through a full set of seasons here, but I do have a growing sense of admiration and appreciation for our arts ecosystem. It’s one with many virtues, many layers, and many participants.
Here’s a sense of the map, incomplete but a start.
There’s a handy database called Guidestar that publishes nonprofit tax returns and allows data searches about lots of details that are reported on these tax returns. I searched on Guidestar to compare Portland to Austin, Texas, where I’ve lived most of my adult life, and to the US in general. How did we fare, I wondered, in terms of our breakdown of arts organizations compared to the larger nonprofit sector, and which genres seemed most and least represented here?
Nationally the United States has 1.5 million registered nonprofit organizations (4.78 nonprofits per 1,000 residents). Of these, about 8% are arts related (116,688). Portland’s MSA has about 8,235 nonprofits (3.64 per 1,000 residents); 8% or 629 are art related. Austin’s MSA has 8,964 or 5.04 per 1,000 residents: and 6%, or 560, are art related.
In addition, we can look at the Dun and Bradstreet 2012 research which reports businesses and employment in all industries. The U.S. reports 904,581 arts-related businesses, or creative industries which employ 3.34 million people or about 2.15% of the workforce.
- Portland is home to 6.35 creative industry jobs per 1,000 employees (4.13% of existing jobs) and 27.62 creative businesses per 1,000 residents (3.34% of all businesses)
- Austin is home to 5.5 creative industry jobs per 1,000 employees (4.14% of existing jobs) and 20.47 creative businesses per 1,000 residents (2.78% of all businesses).
Portland is definitely a place for arts to flourish! In addition we have numerous degree programs for higher education in the arts, we’ve excelled at attracting filming to our community; and we’re a hotbed of festivals of all kinds, especially arts-oriented festivals.
And we’ve excelled in exporting talent. Portland is getting known for its artisan culture and its creative industries, as well as its celebrities in music, drama, television, film, dance and visual arts. Our town can claim artists from Mark Rothko to Modest Mouse, Beverly Cleary and Esperanza Spalding.
The ecosystem must be fueled by resources – which means the ticket buying public and the philanthropic community. Our resource success can be judged by the financial health of our arts institutions. One proxy for this health is the available cash reserves of our nonprofit organizations. Nonprofit Association of Oregon notes that we are not keeping pace here. Additionally, a study by arts planning and resource group in Columbus, Ohio also noted that Portland, in comparison with 10 other arts communities, had:
- better private support ($34.27 per capita in 2011 as compared to Austin’s $24.69 per capita – within a range of $82.25 in Minneapolis to $20.89 in Jacksonville)
- middle tier public support ($6.10 per capita compared to Austin’s $4.64 – within a range of $30.14 in Minneapolis to $1.56 in Louisville, based on reports from the IRS form 990)
- fewer venue seats per 1,000 individuals (69 venue seats per 1,000 population compared to 100 in Austin, within a range of 330 in Indianapolis to 44 in Minneapolis)
- lower artist wages (22% of median wage in the region, based on Bureau of Labor Statistics, versus 31% of median wage in Austin – within a range of Austin’s high of 31% to 6% in Louisville)
How do you think Portland stacks up?
I can tell you, I am darned impressed!