According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) and Americans for the Arts, arts organizations, and the creative people they employ, stimulate innovation, strengthen our nation’s competitiveness in the global marketplace and play an important role in building and sustaining economic vibrancy.

The BEA’s latest report shows that the arts and culture sector make up 4.3%, or $698 billion, of the nation’s gross domestic prodcut — a larger share of the economy than construction and transportation. The report also shows arts and culture generate 4.7 million jobs, and U.S. exports of arts resulted in a $25 billion arts trade surplus.

Arts organizations and creative people also are important to local economies. There are 790 arts-related businesses that employ 2,700 people in Howard County. The arts, which include both for- and nonprofits, account for 4.3% of total businesses and range from major tourist attractions, such as Merriweather Post Pavilion and Toby’s Dinner Theatre, which are next-door neighbors in Downtown Columbia, to mom-and-pop printing and design services to nonprofit theater companies.

The heart of the arts sector is the network of 20 or so nonprofits that work year ’round to ensure that the public has access to quality arts experiences and diverse cultural offerings.

To establish and sustain a vibrant arts community, you need artists and creative workers, healthy arts organizations, affordable space to present and produce the arts, and strong public and private support. To that end, the Howard County Arts Council (HCAC) has worked continuously for the past 35 years to foster and support the arts in our community.

The HCAC presents exhibitions and performances, provides low-cost studio space for artists, offers classes for children and adults, and is the lead advocate for the artists and arts organizations in the county. In addition, the HCAC, in partnership with Howard County government, supports the arts by awarding operating and special project grants to nonprofit arts organizations and schools that engage the community through music, film, theater, poetry, dance, visual arts and more.

Today, Howard County is home to a vital and diverse nonprofit arts community, with people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities who have access to the arts, and community participation is strong. In comparing the nonprofit arts sector in Howard to Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Montgomery counties, the results are as follows.

  • Howard County residents spend more per capita on arts and entertainment;
  • Howard County has the second highest level of arts participation;
  • Howard County has the second highest number of individual artists and creative industries.

Annual attendance at concerts and events produced by arts nonprofits in the county exceeds 338,000, and the total economic impact of these nonprofits and their audiences is $18 million.

The arts entertain, engage and enlighten us in many different ways — spiritually, intellectually and emotionally. Communities that embrace the arts create exciting and vibrant places to live, work and play that, in turn, attract a highly trained workforce and engaged citizens.

On that note, know that in 2015 Ellicott City was named one of the “Top 20 Leading Creative Class Cities” by industry expert Richard Florida. In a global marketplace that is increasingly driven by technology, innovation and a creative workforce, this is good news for Howard County.

A strong arts sector is an asset that stimulates the local economy and community development. Through charitable contributions, businesses can play a key role in ensuring the health and vitality of the arts sector.

“We can’t have business development without community development,” said Leonardo McClarty, CEO of the Howard County Chamber of Commerce. “Investments in small and mid-sized arts and cultural organizations, and neighborhood-based groups, are essential to community development. When we work together to build stronger, more resilient communities, we create an environment that will support growth in business.”

Whether driven by how the arts impact the communities in which their employees live and work or by a charitable focus, when businesses support the arts they make an investment in our community, our quality of life and our economic vitality.

Coleen West is executive director of the Howard County Arts Council. She can be contacted at 410-313-ARTS and coleen@hocoarts.org.