Exploring Arts and Economy

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Study Overview

Arts are a Sound Economic Investment

Arts Retain Local/Attract Outside Dollars

Arts Sector Growing in Sonoma County

Arts Generate Tax Revenues

The data sources cited in each section are listed at the bottom of this page. 


Study Overview

The nonprofit arts and culture industry generates $80.4 million in annual economic activity in Sonoma County—supporting 2,684 full-time equivalent jobs and generating $7.4 million in local and state government revenues, according to the Arts & Economic Prosperity 5 national economic impact study. The most comprehensive economic impact study of the nonprofit arts and culture industry ever conducted in the United States, Arts & Economic Prosperity 5 was conducted by Americans for the Arts, the nation’s leading nonprofit organization for advancing the arts and arts education.

Arts Organizations

Results show that 42 Sonoma County nonprofit arts and culture organizations spent $45.1 million during fiscal year 2015. This spending is far-reaching: organizations pay employees, purchase supplies, contract for services and acquire assets within our community. Those dollars, in turn, generated $33.4 million in household income for local residents and $4.2 million in local and state government revenues.

Arts Audiences

In addition to spending by organizations, the nonprofit arts and culture industry leverages event-related spending by its audiences. As a result of attending a cultural event, attendees often eat dinner in local restaurants, pay for parking, shop for unique items and gifts, and pay a babysitter. What’s more, attendees from out of town often stay overnight in a local hotel extending their visit.

In Sonoma County, surveys of 1,095 audience members during Arts & Economic Prosperity 5 showed that nonprofit arts and culture event-related spending generated $35.3 million for the local economy (not including the price of admission to the event), supported 732 full-time equivalent jobs, and generated $3.02 million in local and state government revenues.


The arts are a sound investment for economic development.

U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis data showed that the industry sector of Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation was fourth on the list of the Top 10 Fast Growing Industries in Sonoma County, 2006-2015, with 21% growth in that period (CED 2016).  Support for the arts does not come at the expense of economic development, as is often assumed. Rather, it is a vital industry—one that supports jobs, generates government revenue, is the cornerstone of tourism and economic development, and drives a creativity-based economy (AFTA 2017).

Nonprofit arts and culture organizations in Sonoma County provide $33.4 million in household income to residents. These residents buy goods and services, pay taxes, and contribute to our local economy. In addition, these are often innovative people who contribute to their communities in creative and collaborative ways.

Assessing the impact of the Sonoma County nonprofit arts and culture economy, as we did through the AEP 5, is just one piece of the creative economy. The creative sector also includes creative occupations—from architecture, interior design, and product development, to web developers and writers—which, when added with the nonprofit sector, accounts for 9,000 creative sector jobs in Sonoma County, or 4% of the County workforce (EDB 2017). To put that into perspective, the construction industry in Sonoma County accounts for 5% of the workforce.

As a growth industry, this is an important time to invest in local arts and culture, as we know that it both attracts tourism spending and retains local dollars. Support from government and the private sector is both a good economic investment and an investment in quality of life.


The arts retain local dollars and attracts non-local dollars.

Arts and culture is a product—a magnet that retains local spending and attracts visitors to the region. If a community fails to provide a variety of artistic and cultural experiences, not only will it fail to attract new dollars from cultural tourists, it will also lose the discretionary spending of its own residents who will travel elsewhere for a similar experience (AFTA 2017).   Nationally, 34 percent of arts attendees travel outside of the county in which they live. And they spend twice what their local counterparts do on meals, transportation, and retail (AFTA 2017).

In Sonoma County, nonresident arts and culture event attendees outpaced their national counterparts by spending an average of 174 percent more per person than local attendees ($65.41 vs. $23.92) as a result of their attendance. The national figures for out-of-county vs. local spending are $47.57 vs. $23.44 (AFTA 2017). This spending (which did not include the price of their admission) is a direct impact on the local economy.

53.6 percent of nonresident attendees reported that they would have “traveled to a different community to attend a similar cultural event” if they had not attended the Sonoma County event (AFTA 2017). Supporting nonprofit arts and culture organizations that produce events and experiences not only enhances our quality of life, but this support can also harness significant economic rewards by attracting visitors to the County.

Resident attendees to Sonoma County arts and culture events were asked what they would have done if the event they were attending was not taking place:  44.8 percent said they would have “traveled to a different community to attend a similar cultural event” (AFTA 2017).

With a growing arts and culture sector in Sonoma County, it is important that residents be apprised of the strength and quality of local arts and culture event and experience opportunities. This will retain local dollars and strengthen not only the arts and culture organizations, but also benefit the greater community surrounding them, both economically and in quality of life.


The arts and culture sector in Sonoma County is growing.

Ten years ago, Sonoma County participated in the same Arts and Economic prosperity study, giving us a baseline for trends. From 2005 to 2015, the total economic activity generated by nonprofit arts and culture increased from $60.3 million to $80.4 million, which represents a 25% increase. This corroborates the US Department of Commerce’s inclusion of Arts in their Top 10 Fast Growing Industries in Sonoma County (CED 2016). The greatest portion of growth came from nonprofit arts and culture organization spending, which increased from $28.8 million in 2005 to $45.1 million in 2015, which represents a 37% increase in ten years.

  1. Since the 2005 AEP study was undertaken, there have been a number of major new organizations established – such as the Green Music Center, Transcendence Theatre Company, and the Children’s Museum of Sonoma County – as well as growth from the established organizations. This is even more remarkable when we take into account the Great Recession that occurred in the intervening years.
  2. In 2005, the AEP study showed 754 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs supported by the economic impact of nonprofit arts and culture organizations. By 2015, that number had increased to 1,952 FTE jobs, a 62% increase (AFTA 2007 & AFTA 2017).
  3. Nonprofit arts and culture organizations support a minimum of 2,684 full-time equivalent jobs in Sonoma County (AFTA 2017).  For comparative purposes, the largest private sector employer in Sonoma County is Kaiser Permanente with 2,640 employees (NBBJ 2016). Local arts and culture organizations provide substantial employment.


The arts generate significant state and local tax revenues.

Sonoma County nonprofit arts and culture organizations and their audiences generated $7.4 in local and state government revenues (AFTA 2017). These revenues include local and state taxes – such as income, sales, lodging, real estate, personal property, and local option taxes – and sources such as local license, utility and filing fees, etc. Nationally, AEP 5 findings show $27.5 billion in revenue to local, state, and federal government is generated from nonprofit arts and culture organizations —a yield well beyond their collective $5 billion in arts allocations. (AFTA 2017)


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Data Sources

Americans for the Arts (AFTA 2007): Arts & Economic Prosperity 3: The Economic Impact of Nonprofit Arts & Cultural Organizations & Their Audiences in Sonoma County, CA, 2005 data, published 2007.

Americans for the Arts (AFTA 2017): Arts & Economic Prosperity 5: The Economic Impact of Nonprofit Arts & Cultural Organizations & Their Audiences in Sonoma County, CA, 2015 data, published 2017.

California Association of Nonprofits (CAN 2014): Causes Count: The Economic Power of California’s Nonprofit Sector, 2014.

Center for Economic Development at California State University, Chico, and the Sonoma County Economic Development Board (CED 2016):  Sonoma County Economic and Demographic Profile, 2016

National Center for Charitable Statistics, a project at the Urban Institute, nccs.urban.org.

North Bay Business Journal (NBBJ 2016): Private Sector Employers, Ranked by Employees: Sonoma County, 2016.

Sonoma County Economic Development Board (EDB 2017):  Unabridged Sonoma County Indicators: Economic Report, 2017.