By Tom Parrish, Executive Director
Rochester ranked as the 20th most arts vibrant large city in America, according to the National Center for Arts Research’s recently released Arts Vibrancy Index. This assessment of arts vibrancy used multiple measures of supply, demand and public support for arts and culture on a per capita basis, and confirms what those of us living in Rochester have known all along – that we live in a creative hotbed. Cited among the contributors to Rochester’s ranking are “first-class venues such as Geva Theatre Center.” According to the Theatre Communications Group (TCG) Fiscal Survey 2013, Geva is the most attended non-profit theatre in the Northeast United States outside of Manhattan.
As the most attended and one of the largest performing arts organizations in Rochester according to the Rochester Business Journal’s “Book of Lists,” we were curious how Geva’s numbers and rankings in the national theatre field (as surveyed by TCG) fed into the overall ranking of arts and culture in the Rochester Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). Geva’s overall rankings nationally are closely related to where the Rochester MSA ranks on similar measures. Geva serves a lot of people and, like the Rochester MSA, is particularly strong in earned revenue and ticket sales, ranking 26th nationally in ticket revenue and 12th in the number served by its education programs. Geva’s strong ticket sales stem in part from its subscription sales, for which it ranks 23rd. Geva is relatively weak in contributed revenue, as is the MSA. This is not a surprise given that the Rochester MSA ranked 279th among America’s 366 major metropolitan areas for the percentage of median discretionary income given to charity in 2012 according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Breaking charitable giving down, an area of particular weakness for Geva (ranking 84th amongst its peers or the 52nd percentile) is the amount of city and county public support it receives. On average, surveyed TCG theatres receive 1.6% of their budgets from their local governments, whereas Geva receives 0.3%. Geva ranks in the top 40 relative to its peers, however, in terms of corporate support and in-kind donations.
If Rochester wants to be the “City of the Arts” and climb the rankings, how do we turn these statistics into action or public policy? The numbers pulling down our region in the rankings are contributed revenue (which includes city and county public support of the arts), the number of independent artists, and socio-economic and supporting industry factors.
Improve Local Public Support and Donations
Local public arts support advocates could promote any number of paths forged by other communities – percent for the arts in public works projects, hotel occupancy tax, sales tax, cigarette tax, income tax, or reallocation of existing public funds. Private pathways to grow charitable support could include a United Arts Fund or more diligent cultivation of individual donors by Rochester organizations, a strategy that Geva is actively pursuing.
Cultivate Local Artists
In terms of growing arts providers, a focus on developing and attracting Rochester-based individual artists through artist live-work space or subsidized artist housing could be a policy direction. A number of projects like Geva Lofts and Conifer’s Market Apartments at Corpus Christi are currently in the works in Rochester.
Address Poverty and Supporting Services
Socio-economically, poverty and regional unemployment also impact the vitality of the arts and culture sector. Poverty in our region is an issue that was brought to the fore by the Rochester Area Community Foundation’s Poverty Report. Robust conversation is ongoing, and organizations and government agencies have begun developing possible solutions through Rochester’s Anti-Poverty Task Force. Lastly, supporting the development of leisure-related complementary industries, particularly hotels, will also help strengthen the arts and culture sector in Rochester.