In the coming year, patrons attending arts events may find a questionnaire sitting on their assigned seats. Or, as they are standing in the lobby during intermission, a representative of Boise City's Department of Arts and History might approach them, paper in hand.
These questionnaires will ask how, what, why and where people who patronize the arts do so and will take about two minutes to complete. The surveys are part of Arts and Economic Prosperity IV, a project by Americans for the Arts, a 50-year-old, Washington, D.C.-based organization that works to "advance the arts in America" and is "dedicated to representing and serving local communities and creating opportunities for every American to participate in and appreciate all forms of the arts."
Those two minutes and those answers will play a role in how Boise is able to portray itself as a vital, growing community where new businesses and creative communities can thrive.
In 2000, Boise participated in Arts and Economic Prosperity II, which looked at the contributions non-profit arts and culture organizations--and their audiences make--on a local level. It was the first time the city had participated in the survey, which queries both audiences and the organizations they patronize.
The survey found that organizations and patrons in Boise had an $18-million impact on the local economy. When Boise participated in Arts and Economic Prosperity III in 2005, the number jumped to $38 million. Nationally, the impact from arts was more than $166 billion.
The $38-million number from 2005 may be tough to beat or even meet this time around, thanks to the economic recession. Since then, Americans have tightened their belts and city, state and federal agencies tightened theirs. Budgets have been slashed across the board, and arts programs were some of the first to have their funding cut.
Arts and History Director Terri Schorzman said that's why it's especially important to participate in the current study: She wants to see what things look like now. The department will gather a minimum of 200 surveys each quarter during this calendar year and will do so at a diverse number of events.
"We will be at everything from Idaho Shakespeare Festival to the symphony to emerging groups to community events," Schorzman said. "We'll be at Alley Rep, when the Idaho History Museum does History Comes Alive, we'll be at free events. We want to get this whole mix of the way people are participating."
The survey itself isn't free, however. It typically costs a city $7,500 dollars to participate, although Boise received a discount this time for participating previously. The $6,100 fee, which the city plans to spread over three fiscal years, will be worth it, Schorzman said.
"It's great to get that base data and get information that serves everybody ... We learned a lot in 2000 and 2005," she added.
Idaho Commission on the Arts Executive Director Michael Faison would agree that getting this kind of data is especially important now.
"The last survey was pre-economic crisis," Faison said. "It will be very important to get a new take on the arts and the economy in the local marketplace now ... consumers are still worried and are not spending as much, and if they're not spending as much, local companies don't feel confident hiring new hires. What it comes down to is it's a circle where everyone is looking at each other, and they're waiting for the other one to flinch."
Or to make the first move.
While the department will focus on "end-users"--asking questions like, "Why are you here? How much did you pay for your ticket? How much did you pay for parking?"--the Americans for the Arts will contact local non-profit arts organizations with a more in-depth survey asking questions about donations, employees, costs and more.
To that end, the Department of Arts and History put together a database that includes 66 organizations including everyone from Alley Repertory Theater, Art Faire, Balance Dance Company, Ballet Idaho, Big Tree Arts, Boise Art Museum, Boise Baroque Orchestra and Boise Rock School to Idaho Dance Theatre, Trey McIntyre Project, TRICA and the Treasure Valley Concert Band.
If those groups come back with information that attendance has been up and individual donations have been up, those numbers can be used to court new businesses to the area. Schorzman said that when a Eugene, Ore.-based company that was considering moving asked its employees what they looked for in a new city, a vibrant arts scene was at the top of the list. Showing that a community spends millions of dollars in the arts is a sure sign that it's vibrant. But it's not just about the money.
"We will be participating in another study [by] Americans for the Arts. It's called the Local Arts Index," Schorzman said. "They did one nationally a year ago, but are now going to come to the local level. It will be really interesting to see how this may shake out."
This survey evaluates a community's vitality and unlike the Economic Prosperity survey, Boise was one of only 100 communities invited to participate. Schorzman pointed out that arts and culture organizations here weathered a stormy economy, showing that vitality is one thing Boise definitely does have.
"We haven't lost anybody," Schorzman said succinctly. "We still have theater being produced and dances being done. Things are still happening ... things just keep popping."
And the reason things keep popping is because people keep attending. So the next time you go to a play, a dance, a poetry reading, a concert or an exhibit and you see a survey on your chair or a representative from the Department of Arts and History approaches you with one, take two minutes and put your two cents in. It may add up to millions.