Arts mean business for Morris County, report says

Morris Arts study cover


Eat your vegetables. And while you’re at it, have heaping helpings of ballet, concerts and paintings, too.

That’s the message of a new study that suggests arts and cultural events are good for Morris County’s economic health, generating nearly $32 million in total economic activity in 2015.

Morris Arts Executive Director Tom Werder at Great Conversations, April 27, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Morris Arts Executive Director Tom Werder at Great Conversations, April 27, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“Art is not just food for the soul. It’s food on the table,” said Tom Werder of Morris Arts.

The Morristown-based nonprofit co-sponsored the regional study with the Morris County Economic Development Corp., as part of a national survey by Americans for the Arts, a nonprofit in Washington DC. 

State and area officials, art directors and business leaders gathered Wednesday at Morristown’s Mayo Performing Arts Center, the crown jewel of the local arts scene, for the release of the study, Arts & Economic Prosperity 5.

It reported that about half of that $32 million was spent by nonprofit arts and cultural organizations, while the other half was event-related spending by their audiences.

These Morris County nonprofits supported the equivalent of 982 full-time jobs, generated $17.2 million in household income for area residents, and delivered $3.2 million in local and state revenue, according to the study.

The actual impact of the arts in Morris County is probably even larger, Werder said, explaining that these numbers are based on data provided by 14 of 148 eligible organizations, and from questionnaires answered by 669 patrons of artistic and cultural events around the county.

More Morris organizations are likely to participate in the future, Werder said. This was the county’s first time in the national survey, now in its fifth iteration since 1994.

Arts & Economic Prosperity 5 helps make the case that the arts are a wise investment that pays dividends, he said.

“I think here in Morris County we have a general understanding of the social value of the arts. We know the arts create community, and feelings of unity. They give us a place to express ourselves, and help express ourselves in positive ways,” he said.

But just as importantly, he said:

“Arts attract people to our community who then spend money,” Werder said.

In Morristown, the Mayo Performing Arts Center and other cultural venues boost the downtown dining scene, creating restaurant jobs, Werder said in an interview.

“These jobs are not shipped overseas. They are created local, and stay local,” he said.

Even so, speakers at Wednesday’s event were quick to assert that some of the most powerful benefits of the arts defy easy measurement. Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty, who was praised for supporting local arts, challenged the arts community to reach out and bring light to those who are suffering.

“You will save a lot of lives in the long run,” he said.

In our hectic modern society, the arts are “the most effective way to maintain our humanity and be in the moment,” said Chris Cannon, owner of the Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen next door.

The greatest investment of all, said Nick Paleologos, executive director of the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, “was those kids we saw a little earlier.” He referred to youths from the Mayo Center’s Performing Arts Company, who sang a rousing show tune.


Nationally, the nonprofit arts industry is very big business. In 2015, it supported 4.6 million jobs and generated $166.3 billion of economic activity ($63.8 billion in spending by arts and cultural organizations; $102.5 billion in event-related expenditures by their audiences) and $27.5 billion for local, state, and federal government.

Arts & Economic Prosperity 5 culled those figures from surveys of 341 regions across all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Some 14,439 organizations and 212,691 arts event attendees contributed information.

Combined, the nonprofit and commercial arts/cultural/arts education sector is a $730 billion industry. Its 4.2 percent share of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product surpasses transportation, tourism, agriculture, and construction, according to The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, as cited by Americans for the Arts.

Among the findings from Morris County:

  • Volunteers are crucial.  In 2015, some 1,107 volunteers donated a total of 87,590 hours —  worth an estimated $2,063,620 — to participating nonprofit arts and cultural organizations.
  • These events draw many folks from afar. Nearly half of attendees –45.6 percent–venture here from beyond Morris County. 
  • Visitors from outside spend more than the locals. About 11 percent more, per person, on average ($32.61 vs. $29.36), when they attend cultural events.
  • The arts attract out-of-towners. Nearly 94 percent of survey respondents from outside Morris County said their primary purpose for visiting was “specifically to attend this arts/cultural event.”
  • Better here than somewhere else.  Some 68 percent of those same respondents indicated they would have “traveled to a different community to attend a similar cultural event” had it not been held in Morris County. Likewise, just over half of resident respondents said they would have ventured elsewhere to find similar entertainment.
  • Hotels may need to promote themselves more aggressively. Only 2.3 percent of the nonresident visitors reported an overnight lodging expense. Morris Tourism Director Leslie Bensley said this figure may be deceptive, however, because many visitors stay with family or friends in the area, or come from nearby counties.

In addition to Morris Arts and the Mayo Performing Arts Center, participating organizations from Morris County included Art in The Atrium, the Blackwell Street Center for The Arts, The Center for Musical Excellence, Dance Innovations Performance Foundation, and the Growing Stage Theatre for Young Audiences.

Also taking part: The Long Hill Township Historical Society, The Masterwork Chorus, The Morris Museum, Opera at Florham, the Shakespeare Theatre Of New Jersey; the Solid Brass Chamber Music Guild, and the Writers Theatre of New Jersey.

More than half a million people attended events of these organizations in 2015, the report said.


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