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  Culture Corner - Iowa Cultural Corridor Alliance Blog
Why Museums Matter
posted: Monday, May 22, 2017  Post Comment

With the recent discourse around the possible elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute for Museum and Library Services (amongst other departments and agencies), now is the perfect time for all arts and culture organizations to make a case as to their impact on their communities, the states they operate in, and the nation as a whole. Why do we matter? More specific to the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, why do art museums matter?

This is a very good—and very important—question. For far too long, arts and culture organizations have done a poor job of communicating why we matter. Sure, we have inspiring mission statements and vision statements but those tend to be focused inwardly—what do we want to say, do, be? But those statements resonate little with the people we serve or the general population at large. We continue to be seen as a “nicety,” not a “necessity.”

That is why in the CRMA Strategic Plan approved by the Board of Trustees in November 2015, one of our goals was to craft a “Value Statement”—a brief statement which addresses the questions of why we matter, what difference do we make to this community, and why should anyone care if the Museum succeeds or fails. While we have not tackled the actual language of that Value Statement, a number of recent surveys have helped us to begin to articulate our importance to society, as well as demonstrate the economic impact we make, both locally and nationally. While I have shared some of these findings at various venues over the past few months, I have not shared them with you, our loyal readers.

Why do museums matter? Because 850 million people told us so. That’s how many people visit a museum in the United States on an annual basis. 850 million people. That’s more than the number of people who attend all major league sports events and theme parks combined. Museums are the number one most trusted source of information in America, more than Wikipedia, local newspapers, professors, or the U.S. Government. We preserve and protect more than one billion objects—many of them national treasures—and our museum volunteers contribute more than 1 million hours of service every week. Recent surveys concluded that students who attend a field trip to an art museum demonstrate improved critical thinking skills, historical empathy, and tolerance. We need these things now more than ever. Why do museums matter? Simply put, they are necessary to our survival as a nation and as a people.

In addition to what we bring to the “quality of life” discussion, museums serve a vital role for area businesses. The CRMA has been asked by major employers on several occasions to give tours to prospective hires in an attempt to woo them to this community. As companies recruit the best and brightest, many hail from larger metropolitan areas and often have concerns that a move to Cedar Rapids might result in fewer cultural offerings—less live theatre, fewer museums, no symphony or opera—in short fewer things to do. Area arts and cultural institutions work hand-in-hand with local employers to dispel that fear by demonstrating that Cedar Rapids possesses a vibrant cultural scene.

Similarly, businesses are hiring more and more people with an arts background because people trained in the arts think differently. They solve problems differently and thus are a welcome addition to most work environments seeking to move their companies forward. Any group of employees can solve problems the way they always have, but insert an arts person into the mix and suddenly the conversation changes, new solutions appear, and companies prosper.

Finally, there are the economic impact numbers. In addition to the value seen by businesses, the arts and cultural industry nationally is an economic powerhouse. It is a $700 billion industry contributing more that 4.2% to the U.S. GDP according to 2013 data compiled by the Department of Commerce. That’s bigger than construction ($587 billion) and transportation and warehousing ($464 billion). In addition to employing 4.74 million people, the nonprofit arts and culture industry annually generates $22 billion in local, state, and federal tax revenues, far more than it receives from government sources. Locally, in a 2010 survey that analyzed the economic impact of 62 participating Corridor arts and culture organizations, it was determined that there was nearly $80 million in economic impact annually, with $50 million spent by the organizations themselves and another $30 million by our visitors. Locally, some 2,700 people are employed by these 62 non-profits which equates to $52.4 million in household incomes. These same 62 organizations generated $7.4 million in local and state government revenues. Even if you are not actively involved with an arts and culture organizations yourself, the economic impact is clear.

Why do arts and culture organizations matter? Why do museums matter? We matter because people want to visit us, businesses need us, and we make an economic impact that is both quantifiable and impressive. We are not a just a nicety, but are truly a necessity. So go visit one of your local museums, attend a play or concert, and support any arts and culture organizations that you feel passionate about. We need you, and you need us.

Sean M. Ulmer, Executive Director
Cedar Rapids Museum of Art


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