The Vermont Arts Council is bullish on the state's state of the arts. Not that the organization isn't always a cheerleader for arts of all kinds, but a recent report has made its administrators even more optimistic.
On Monday, June 13, members of the council were presented with the results of a study developed and enacted by hired consultant FutureWorks. According to its website, FutureWorks is a "consulting and policy development firm that helps design strategies, inform policies, and build institutions that promote sustainable, skill-based regional economic growth and competitiveness." The company's central office is in New York City, with satellites in Nashua, N.H., and Northampton, Mass.
Zon Eastes, VAC director of outreach and advancement, said the study's most notable finding is that Vermont's creative economy employs more than 37,000 residents — almost 9 percent of the state's population. He pointed out that this is vastly higher than the 6,825 figure provided by the Americans for the Arts 2015 state report.
That major discrepancy seems primarily due to different research criteria. FutureWorks estimated the number of employees in a broadly defined creative sector consisting of seven occupational categories: design, artisan food, culture/heritage, film/media, literary arts/publishing, performing arts and visual arts/crafts.
The Americans for the Arts study included only employees of "arts-related businesses," which it divided into six types: art schools/services, design/publishing, film/radio/TV, museums/collections, performing arts and visual arts/photography. In its statewide report, Americans for the Arts admits that its estimates should be considered conservative, as its "analyses indicate an under-representation of arts businesses.")
Crucially, the FutureWorks estimate includes not only "creative workers in creative industries," but also "noncreative workers in creative industries" and "creative workers in other industries."
As part of its Vermont Creative Network initiative, VAC is in the process of dividing the state into six official "creative zones," each of which will have a self-governed leadership body made up of arts-oriented community members. According to Eastes, the FutureWorks data "will be central to building confidence and will in the creative zones."
The second piece of data VAC finds promising comes from the Vermonter Poll, a yearly telephone survey conducted by the University of Vermont's Center for Rural Studies. CRS research specialist Michael Moser described the poll as a "statewide omnibus survey" with questions related to the interests of clients, who are a "variety of researchers, nonprofits and state agencies." Topics have included agriculture, GMO labeling, immigration and migrant labor, and computer connectivity. Each "standard" — not overly in-depth — question costs $500, said Moser.
This year, VAC paid to have three evaluative statements included in the poll. The first was, "I value the arts as an important element of life in my community," a statement with which 60 percent of Vermonters strongly agreed and 25 percent somewhat agreed. ("The arts" were defined as performing arts such as music, dance and theater, as well as galleries and museums, arts festivals, literary arts, and art classes.)
The second statement was, "I value the arts as an integrated part of K-12 public education in Vermont," with which 74 percent of respondents strongly agreed and 20 percent somewhat agreed.
While these numbers suggest general enthusiasm about "the arts," personal engagement figures were lower. When they were posed the question, "Would you say that a member of your household is actively engaged in the arts daily, weekly, monthly, several times a year or never?" 26 percent of respondents indicated daily, 22 percent weekly, 13 percent monthly, 15 percent several times a year and 22 percent never.
Even so, Eastes found it "pretty darn impressive" that 75 percent of residents engage with the arts at least several times a year.
Overall, the arts council presents its new data optimistically. As VAC content manager Susan McDowell wrote in a recent blog post, "These statistics are important. Not only do they validate what we feel to be true, they open the door to more effective storytelling."