Max Denning

A study commissioned by Americans for the Arts found that nonprofit arts and culture generated $1.2 million in economic activity in the 2016 fiscal year in Baker, Wallowa and Union counties.

The Arts & Economic Prosperity 5 study examined the economic impact of nonprofit arts and culture organizations in 341 study regions. In regions of similar size to Northeast Oregon — with populations of fewer than 50,000 — the median industry expenditures in 2016 were $5.3 million, more than four times the total industry expenditures in Northeast Oregon in the 2015 fiscal year. However, Mika Morton, co-executive director of Art Center East, said she thought the economic impact in Northeast Oregon was greater than the study portrayed.

“It’s not an exact accurate count in terms of audience numbers and other organizations and how much they contribute to the local economy,” Morton said.

Morton noted that if all the arts organizations in the area had participated in the survey, the economic impact dollar figure would have doubled or possibly tripled. In the three counties, only six organizations responded to the survey: Crossroads Carnegie Arts Center, Art Center East, Eastern Oregon Regional Theatre, Josephy Center for Arts and Culture, Liberty Theatre Foundation and Northeast Oregon Folklore Society.

ACE contributed to the study by filling out an organizational survey and also having attendees at their events fill out an arts patron study. Darcy Dolge, co-executive director of ACE, said the organization had approximately 25 volunteers who collected surveys from arts patrons at events over the 2016 fiscal year. Dolge said she was glad to have proof of the influence of the arts in Northeast Oregon.

“Some people are unfamiliar with the impact arts are having on their community, since we live in a beautifully rich ag and ranch, forestry community,” Dolge said. “Arts might not be the first thing on their list to do on a weekend. So it’s nice to have a survey like this to show, in real time, this is the impact. It’s not just a feeling we have, they’re real numbers.”

In Oregon, 11 counties, cities and regions contributed to the study. The Northeast Oregon region reported the smallest economic impact of any of those that reported. According to the study, the least populated region, the Southern Oregon area, which encompasses a population of only 29,585, brings in more than $100 million to the region — these numbers reflect the enormous economic impact of the world-famous Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, which was included in the study.

In total, the estimated spending by the nonprofit arts and culture industry was more than $687 million in Oregon in 2016, according to the study. The industry also supported 22,299 full-time equivalent jobs and generated $29.3 million in local government revenue.

One organization not included in the study that has an economic impact in Northeast Oregon is La Grande’s Eastern Oregon Film Festival. Christopher Jennings, EOFF co-founder, said the film festival brought $1.25 million to La Grande in the first eight years of its existence. This year, Jennings said, a survey of 42 festival-goers reported each spent on average $101.78 each day while attending the film festival.

See more in Wednesday's spooky edition of The Observer.