The Magic of Arts and Culture Through an Economic Lens

Laura Busheikin


The Magic of Arts & Culture Through an Economic Lens

By Laura Busheikin for DenmanWORKS

The relationship between business and the arts is not a one-way stream where businesses support the arts. It also flows the other way.

The arts support local businesses in many ways, in particular by drawing people to events and cultural spaces, creating a knock-on effect that spreads money through the community.

And of course, the arts play a huge role in creating a vibrant, place-based sense of identity. Arts and cultural spaces help tell the story of who and what a community is. All this feeds into a healthy economy and a healthy community.

There were some of the key messages at a presentation called Magic Happens When Arts and Business Meet, which I attended last October as part of the Vancouver Island Economic Summit, hosted by the Vancouver Island Economic Alliance (VIEA).

The presentation was based on a report called Impact Assessment of the Arts and Culture Sector for Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, carried out by Nordicity, a global consulting firm, and commissioned by Creative Coast, a Vancouver Island & Gulf Islands arts coalition.

Denman resident Kera McHugh, Community Engagement Director at Comox Valley Arts, was one of the presenters, along with Chad Rickaby and Louisa Plant from Nordicity.

Here are a few key findings from the report:

About the respondents

  • 69% attend arts and culture events weekly
  • Each spends roughly $300/year on art and culture in the region
  • 68% create art several times a week or more

About the arts sector

  • Arts added over $900 million to the island economy in 2019
    • more than key regional institutions such as Vancouver Island University ($624 million), the cruise ship economy ($124 million) or the dairy industry ($32 million)
  • Arts support more than 20,000 jobs in the region (35 per cent more than the forestry sector)
  • There are over 1,100 arts organizations
  • There are 25 arts councils

About artists

  • Over 37,000 artists in the region
  • Average annual income of artists who generate revenue is $18,000; average expenses are $14,000
  • 80 per cent of artists do not support themselves on their art alone

Cultural tourism is one of the largest and fastest growing tourism markets. Research shows that arts and culture travellers:

  • Spend more than other travellers
  • Are more likely to spend $1,000 or more during their stay
  • Stay longer than other travellers
  • Spend money at local businesses before/after cultural events
    • 91 per cent spend at local businesses
    • Average spend is more than $60 per single event

People who took the survey were also asked what social benefits they receive from the arts. The top response was “improves personal wellbeing (mental and/or physical).” As well, the arts create opportunities for personal learning and creativity, inspire new ways of thinking and creative solutions, help people grow personal networks and connections, and more.

And what about community benefits? Respondents identified creating a distinct local identity, providing a shared sense of belonging, creating educational opportunities, contributing to truth and reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, and encouraging volunteering, collective action and civic mindedness. As well, the arts can raise difficult questions and inspire debate on important and complex issues.

The presentation included ideas for how to better support the arts and how to foster reciprocal relationships between arts and business. Also, there was discussion about the role arts and culture can play as our society emerges from the COVID pandemic. See the end of the article for info on where to find the report where you can read about these.

The presentation spurred me to reflect on arts and culture on Denman. I feel we are incredibly fortunate here. In non-pandemic times, we have so many wonderful events, some that rest on decades of tradition, others that are new and innovative. Some are mainly for locals, others draw visitors from all over BC and further abroad.

Classes, workshops, mentorships, creative collaborations, jam sessions, and more are continually bubbling up. Homes are full of local art. Every café has local art on the walls and the General Store has its own poet laureate.

We have more arts organizations than retail outlets. Also, we have a wildly abundant amount of community space for arts and culture (two multi-room halls, an arts centre, a summer gallery, a weaving centre, a church that hosts multi-genre performances, two arts-oriented cafes, a bookstore that hosts readings, and more). And by my count we have several hundred volunteers supporting the arts.

During COVID, Arts Denman pulled in grants to commission new public art and as a result we have a beautiful mural and some eye-catching sculptures, with more to come.

Yet the economic situation of artists on Denman is precarious, if we consider income statistics, the cost of housing, and the remoteness from work, education, and wider networking opportunities (not to mention COVID). I hope and believe that Denman’s long tradition of creating and supporting arts and culture will continue, with all the innovation, adaptation, and creativity that are needed in these unpredictable times.

Read the full report:

Resources for island artists and arts organizers:


Author: publishermike