Durango’s creative institutions funnel at least $18 million into the local economy, according research compiled by Fort Lewis College.
Communities across the country are investing in arts and cultural institutions, including businesses, as a way to build their economies. But nailing down the actual impact of the creative economy isn’t so easy, the FLC report said.
“We have not found any causal studies linking the creation of arts districts to economic outcomes,” the FLC business school researchers said in the September report.
The Durango Creative District, founded in 2019, has identified core creative industries that make up the local creative economy, like artisan products, culinary arts, culture, design, live music and public art.
One main goal for the district is to join with the city’s tourism industry to attract outside visitors and creative entrepreneurs.
The Durango Creative District cited the multimillion-dollar economic impact as one of the main reasons the city should increase funding for the creative district, according to a September letter to Durango City Council.
“Durango is primed for using arts and culture to grow its tourism markets without compromising the quality of life for its residents,” said Hayley Kirkman, executive director of the district. “Increasing tourism and increasing quality of life are not mutually exclusive.”
Kirkman called the $18 million economic impact “conservative” because it only counts arts and culture nonprofits – not for-profit entities or individual artists. The estimate is based on 2015 data provided by Durango-area nonprofits for an Americans for the Arts study.
In 2008-09, the arts and culture industry in Durango generated about $9.1 million, the FLC report said.
“Even if 10% of the employment and economic productivity (in 2017) came from the arts and cultural districts, that is still a noticeable economic benefit,” the researchers said.
Tourism becomes more creativeNationally, art tourism has been growing in recent years, the FLC team found, based on federal, state and academic research.
Arts and cultural economic activity increased from 2015 to 2017, the most recent data available. In 2017, the sector contributed about $877.8 billion, 4.5% of the gross domestic product, to the overall economy.
Colorado’s tourism traditionally focuses on recreation, but art tourism is on the rise as more communities designate creative districts, the FLC report said.
In Southwest Colorado, the creative industry generated more than $489 million in sales revenue in 2019. The industry is adding jobs each year – related employment increased by 19% between 2010 and 2019.
Nationally, the creative industry took a blow during the COVID-19 pandemic, losing 60,000 jobs and $2.6 billion in sales based on preliminary estimates.
The economic impact of the creative economy is hard to measure exactly, in part because definitions change depending on who’s doing the reporting. Some research models can also overestimate economic impacts, the FLC researchers said.
The college has committed to studying the industry’s economic impact annually for coming years.
“There are very few long-term impact studies on individual creative districts,” Kirkman said. “We are excited that FLC has committed to an annual report to monitor the growth of our local creative economy.”
For the moment, FLC researchers anticipated future growth for the creative industry.
“The overlap between the arts and tourism ... is growing and therefore, the number of jobs in arts and culture in Durango will most likely expand in the coming years,” the researchers said.