As Virgin Islanders prepare to head to the voting polls this November, we should think about which candidates are supportive of our arts, culture and our creative economy.
With so much emphasis on high WAPA bills, crime, and the weak economy, it might be tempting to think that arts and culture are unnecessary extras. Why should we invest in our arts and cultural institutions some would argue, when so much else needs attention? Because when governments reduce their support for the arts, they are not cutting frills. Rather, they are undercutting an industry that is a cornerstone of tourism, and economic development. When governments increase their support for the arts, they are generating tax revenues, jobs, and a creative based economy. According to Americans for the Arts, the nonprofit arts industry (museums, theaters, performing arts centers, arts councils and others) generates $29.6 billion in federal, state, and local tax revenues annually, while supporting 4.9 million jobs. By comparison, federal, state, and local governments combined spend less than $4 billion on support for the arts each year. The financial return on government's investment in the nonprofit arts is, therefore, more than seven times the investment–annually.
In the Virgin Islands, our elected officials are proposing to cut funding for the arts in Act #7028, Bill #27-0224, which stipulates allocating only $350,000 for the Virgin Islands Council on the Arts; $354,600 less than what was requested; hindering VICA's ability to meet the dollar-for-dollar match of federal funds required for re-granting. Because the Virgin Islands Council for the Arts supports artistic excellence and improves access to the arts by granting funds to nonprofit arts organizations, I call on our elected officials to rethink its funding support for VICA. The social and economic implications of not fully funding VICA's requested amount will be devastating to arts organizations and the people of the Virgin Islands.
The Virgin Islands has a wealth of cultural and artistic assets. Across the U.S., the role of the arts as an economic engine is growing in acceptance and strength. I call on all candidates to support funding and policies that would recognize the growth potential and direct benefits of investing in the arts in order to drive economic development. This is particularly true for the Virgin Islands in the area of "Cultural and Arts Tourism", according to The Partners in Tourism and Travel Industry Association of America, "Cultural travelers are ideal tourists–they spend more and stay longer. Two-thirds (65 percent) of American adult travelers say they included a cultural, arts, heritage, or historic activity or event while on a trip. This equates to 92.7 million cultural travelers. Compared to all U.S. travelers, cultural tourists spend more ($631 vs. $457), are more likely to use a hotel (62 percent vs. 56 percent), travel longer (5.2 nights vs. 4.1 nights).
Public spending for the arts should be considered, not just for its social benefits, but for its economic benefits. Sectors of the Virgin Islands economy that participate in the arts, culture, and "creative industries," are strong sources of tax revenue, employment, and quality of life generators. Investment in the arts and culture is an investment in the economic development of the Virgin Islands.
Priscilla L. Hintz
Editor's note: Priscilla L. Hintz is a board member of Arts Alive and the publisher of ARTfusion Magazine, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.
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