Early in my volunteering at BAT, I went to a Burien City Council meeting. The guy speaking right before me during the public comment said he just moved to Burien from a small town on the East Coast. He explained the town’s mayor had all but broken the City’s budget to bring arts and artists to the City. It was so bad that there was a recall petition started against the mayor.
I could see where all of this was going. Art bad. Art killed my last City, don’t let it happen here. Knowing I had to follow the speaker to talk about the next show at BAT, I began slumping down in my chair. I was thinking of ways to leave without being noticed.
But then the speaker took a breath and continued. Within a year, the City’s budget was balanced. Within three years, the City had grown so much it began decreasing taxes while expanding services. Due to expanded arts, the City grew. More restaurants. More businesses. More revenue.
I was pleased to get up and talk about BAT after that speaker. I also never forgot that night or the lesson that was there to learn.
In 2017 the Foster School of Business from the University of Washington to come study the economic impact of BAT on Burien. The study found that BAT’s four main stage shows (16 weeks of production) bring $141,000 to the City of Burien, not counting money spent at the theater (tickets, concessions, the bar).
This last weekend, Maggie and I had a rare day off. We took the day to see some art. In our case, it was the Tacoma Museum of Glass (https://www.museumofglass.org/). We were there for a few hours and had a very good time. Glass in the hands of artists is impressive.
We then decided to eat dinner and headed to Viva, a restaurant that was new to us. (http://www.viva4life.com/) It is vegan and gluten-free. It is located in a part of Tacoma I had never been to, despite having lived in Tacoma for three years while in grad school. We’ll head back there on another day to check out the fun shops we saw and have another dinner at Viva.
When everything was said and done, on this trip, we spent about $100 at the restaurant and for parking, in addition to the entrance fee for the Museum. Not counting the admission, we added over $100 to the Tacoma economy.
That $100 did not include transportation, and had we gotten an earlier start, we would have done some general shopping in Tacoma. As is, I am sure we are heading back to an area of Tacoma we would never have found, but for our trip to the Museum of Glass.
That is how art works. Tourism dollars follow art. You come to see a play, a concert, or an exhibit at a gallery, and you stay in town and have dinner. If you traveled far enough, you stay the night. BAT has two couples who come from Canada. They come to most shows. When they come down, they spend the day shopping, they come to the show, and spend the night at a hotel, typically near Southcenter. (Burien does not have a hotel.) Then, the next morning, they drive back home.
That type of arts spending is typical. This study of The Economic Impact of Nonprofit Performing Arts on the City of Omaha (https://www.issuelab.org/resources/9080/9080.pdf) is representative of studies that look at the economic impact of the arts on a city. Simply put, arts = economic growth.
Instead of once again looking to decrease the number of performing arts venues in Burien, Burien should be spending on and encouraging art throughout the City. Then, as the gentleman from the East Coast explained a few years ago, Burien would grow and expand in ways that provide more revenue to the City for services while simultaneously opening up the option to reduce taxes and fees.