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Arts, the economy and giraffe biscuits

COPPeR's new report encompasses more than paintings and Shakespeare



Leaders of arts organizations, politicians, artists and Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo's "Girl of the West" were all at The Broadmoor hotel on June 21.

The mood was jovial and victorious. People clapped furiously over stuffed chicken lunches.

The cause for all this back-patting? A new report that found that the Colorado Springs nonprofit arts community contributed big money to the economy $94.7 million, in fact, in annual economic impact.

The "Arts and Economic Prosperity III" report by Americans for the Arts was presented by the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region (COPPeR). The national report covered 156 regions including, for the first time, the Colorado Springs metro area.

But as COPPeR vice chair Susan Edmondson read out impressive figures to a pre-rehearsed crowd chanting "Hot damn!," one had to wonder if the figures being presented were too good to be true.

Take, for instance, the study's finding that people attending an arts or culture event in Colorado Springs spent an average of $40.90 in association with the event not including admission.

Or the finding that nearly 1.5 million people attended arts and culture events at 48 local organizations in 2005. The figure includes repeat visits, but still means an average of about 4,000 people went to a nonprofit arts event every day that year in the Springs.

Hot damn!

Time for a little scrutiny: The 48 organizations polled included places most people wouldn't immediately associate with arts and culture. Places like the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.

According to spokesman Sean Anglum, the zoo had 326,075 visitors during its 2004-2005 fiscal year. That means the zoo accounted for about 21.7 percent of those 1.5 million attendees.

Another big attraction was the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, which hosted the hugely popular Chihuly exhibit in 2005. The museum had about 160,000 visitors that year, or about 10.7 percent of 1.5 million. Chihuly attracted half those visitors, according to Charlie Snyder, FAC director of public relations.

The Colorado Springs Philharmonic reported 147,279 attendees during its 2004-2005 fiscal year. That includes the Philharmonic's July 4 performance in Memorial Park, an event many people attend largely for the fireworks.

And how did the report come up with the $40.90 it claims the average person spends in association with attending an arts event? It surveyed 786 audience members at 20 events (no high-end galas were included). Respondents were asked how much they had spent in and around the event. This included souvenirs, ground transportation, overnight lodging, meals, clothing and childcare.

Edmondson says the figure, which easily trumps the survey's $27.79 national average, was pleasing.

"Did it surprise me?" she asks. "Yeah, it surprised me."

Maybe it should surprise all of us; Anglum, for instance, says the average person spends less than $5 while at the zoo.

The survey says people spend most of their $40.90 on food and drinks. Which begs the question: Is everyone dining on steak before going to the art museum? Or is the sample too small to represent the diversity of arts patrons?

"Arts and Economic Prosperity III" seems to indicate Colorado Springs benefits economically from the arts, but it also shows Americans for the Arts takes a wide view of the arts and their impact on the community.

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