“As a field, economics deals with complex processes and studies substantial amounts of information. Economists use assumptions in order to simplify economic processes so that it is easier to understand.” (Source: Boundless Economics)

In a standing room only session at the recent Oklahoma Arts Conference, panelists: Thomas A. Anderson, Kay Decker, PhD, and John Robertson discussed the big picture of our economy and local ways to record the arts sector’s impact on economies.

Kelsey Karper moderated the panel with a goal to encourage arts leaders to track and share economic impact data on their organization and programs and participate in the upcoming economic impact study that Oklahomans for the Arts is coordinating locally.

Assumptions were a theme throughout the session—both the need to make assumptions when gathering and presenting data and understanding assumptions to compare the arts & culture sector’s data to other fields.

Decker talked about gathering consistent data on the cultural district initiative in Alva, Oklahoma. The population of Alva is approximately 6,300 and it is located 75 miles NW of Enid and 160 miles NW of OKC in the far NW corner of the state.

Focusing specifically on the Graceful Arts Gallery and Studios, Decker tracks visitors and visitor origination (with visitors from 41 Oklahoma towns, 14 different states and 2 foreign countries since the gallery’s inception).  The gallery also tracks sales, sales tax collections and payments to artists and educators.

While she emphasized they aren’t able to know each visitor to Alva nor why they arrived, they make norms to find out about visitors to certain sites.

A founder of the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival, Robertson said they knew they needed to track attendees to the event that was free when it started so they could help the host town of Okemah support the festival.

They used low tech means such as counting cars and posting a map along with stick pins for visitors to mark their hometowns. That way they know about international and interstate visitors.

He said they decided to make a 50-mile radius around the town to know how many hotel rooms were booked related to the festival. Even with conservative estimates, the Festival surprised locals with the big economic impact. Robertson reports annually to the Chamber on the numbers.

Working for the City of Oklahoma City, Anderson tracks attendees to all major events in city facilities.

As part of his regular reporting, Anderson estimates visitor spending through the direct spending metric. This estimates audience spending related to retail, hospitality, transportation and other services used by visitors.

The city collects data about numbers of visitors and how many are within 60 miles or outside 60 miles of the city (a radius set by the Direct Marketing Association).

He suggests looking at ticket buyer information, asking local hotels about those staying overnight and neighboring businesses for the impact of the event or program.

In-direct spending can also be tracked to find out how visitor expenditures induce employment.

All the panelists emphasized beginning to track information now and making clear and consistent assumptions based on data about who attends your events.

Your local Chamber of Commerce or Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) may already have standards and metrics you can apply to your own work. If you are considering developing your own tools to measure your organization’s economic impact, check with these entities first about how you can work together or benefit from what they are already doing.