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Arts in the Loop contribute $2.25 billion to Chicago’s economy: report

Some of the arts institutions that are included in the Chicago Loop Alliance report the economic impact of such organizations (from top left clockwise): Goodman Theatre, American Writers Museum, Art Institute of Chicago and Millennium Park.

Some of the cultural arts institutions that are included in the Chicago Loop Alliance impact report include (clockwise, from top left): the Goodman Theatre, American Writers Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago and Millennium Park. | Liz Lauren, Rich Hein/Sun-Times, Marlin Keesler/flickr, Ashlee Rezen/Sun-Times

Art institutions in the Loop contribute over $2.25 billion to Chicago’s economy every year, according to a study released Wednesday.

The Chicago Loop Alliance unveiled their report at the Gene Siskel Film Center showing that the 72 arts and cultural institutions based in the neighborhood contribute $1.4 billion to the economy through spending and payrolls.

On top of that, visitors to places like the Art Institute of Chicago or the Goodman Theatre as well as those coming downtown to see public art like the Picasso or “The Bean” are contributing $850 million in the form of ticket purchases, shopping and meals.

David Whitaker, President and CEO of Choose Chicago, speaks at a press conference about the Arts in the Loop Economic Impact Study at the Gene Siskel Film Center on April 11, 2018. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

Between institutions, public art and architecture, the study counts 250 art-based points of interest in the Loop.

“When you look at the density of world-class institutions, the Loop is pretty unique,” said Michael Edwards, Chicago Loop Alliance executive director. But he notes that “we were surprised to learn about the amount of organizations that are here.”

Among the findings of the study, conducted through analysis of tax forms and surveys of over 12,000 visitors:

  • About 20 percent of visitors coming to the Loop to experience art live outside of the Chicago area. Visitors from outside the metro area spent an average of $761.88 per party when they come to the Loop. (The average party spends $600 per visit.)
  • Though viewing public art and architecture tends to be free, the study calculates that contributes $250 million to the economy, through food and other services people buy as a result of coming to the Loop. Edwards says such a calculation is a first of its kind in any study looking at the economic impact of the arts. “You’re never one block away from a public art institution in the art,” said Mark Kelly, commissioner of the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events.
  • The average Loop arts visitor comes to the neighborhood 12 times a year visiting 2.2 art-related places on each trip.
  • Loop arts institutions directly or indirectly help employ 15,500 full-time workers. They get paid an average of $41,000 for a total of $493.5 million every year.
  • The 7.3 million visitors each year to Loop art institutions is more than the 6.7 million attending games played by Chicago’s five major sports teams.
  • Between state, local and amusement taxes, arts in the Loop generates $60.6 million in revenue each year.

“Arts and culture are not a luxury. They’re the fabric of our civic life,” said Roche Schulfer, executive director of the Goodman Theatre. “I think this study proves that not only can we afford the arts, we need the arts.”

Both administrators at institutions and outside experts agree that arts can have an impact on the economy.

“These arts are having a big impact, especially when you have a critical mass or number,” said Teresa Córdova, director of the Great Cities Institute at the University of Illinois at Chicago, an organization that wasn’t involved in the study. “I may not travel to see one, but if there are more in that region, I’ll go there.”

Córdova also said it helps that there are places like the Art Institute, which Córdova says “has the best collection of impressionist art outside of the Louvre.”

“People need to understand how important the arts are,” said Lynn Osmond, CEO of the Chicago Architecture Foundation. “Not a lot of cities have the depth that we have here.”

Her organization, behind a number of architecture tours including a river cruise, is expanding and set to open the Chicago Architecture Center at 111 E. Wacker Drive this summer.

Mark Kelly, Commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, speaks at a press conference about the Arts in the Loop Economic Impact Study at the Gene Siskel Film Center on April 11, 2018. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

The museum is moving from its current location on Michigan Avenue across from the Art Institute to a three-story site that includes a 26-foot-tall “Skyscape Gallery” to feature skyscrapers around the world.

Osmond says her organization’s growth is in response to what it’s learned from its visitors.

“We’re creating a whole new experience based on what we hear,” Osmond said, adding that the Loop Alliance’s report shows how visitors come from afar for unique art offerings only available in the city.

Edwards said the Loop’s art community had a major impact in the growth of the Loop in recent years from a place where people go to work during the week to a place where people live and enjoy the arts.

“The Loop is an evolving location. What the Loop used to be is a 9 to 5 place,” Edwards. “It’s now become an 18-hour, even a 24-hour place.”