An arts district can bring more than culture to a city-it can bring big money.

We all know the arts can enrich our lives. But who knew they could also be the ticket to economic success for cities around the world?

The city of Bilbao, Spain, did.

The Basque regional government financed the $89 million satellite of New York’s Guggenheim Museum as part of a plan to turn the sleepy industrial city, a former shipbuilding community, into a cultural mecca. So far, it seems to be working.

Since the museum’s opening in 1997, almost 1.4 million visitors have come to Bilbao, 79 percent of them to see the Guggenheim Bilbao specifically. They’ve spent more than $200 million on food, lodging, and transportation, as well as tickets and souvenirs. Because of the popularity of the Guggenheim Bilbao, more than $1 billion in development projects-including a convention center, opera house, and fine arts museum-are now in the works.

But you don’t have to go halfway around the world to find cities benefiting economically from the infusion of a little culture. Fort Worth has always known that culture sells.

The city that boasts the largest honkytonk in the world actually attracts more visitors to its Cultural District. The 950-acre area of land just west of downtown Fort Worth is where the Amon Carter, Kimbell, and Modem Art museums share space with the Will Rogers Memorial Center, site of the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo. Visitors have been frequenting the area since the 1930s, when Will Rogers began hosting equestrian events, but the area wasn’t officially designated as the city’s Cultural District until 1987. It was in the Cultural District that Cowtown and uptown came together as a single destination. Fort Worth leaders knew the combination could be a powerful lure.

In 1997, for instance, while the American Paint Horse Association World Championships were one of the main ai-tractions at Will Rogers, some 300,000 visitors also saw Monet and the Mediterranean at the Kimbell.

In downtown Fort Worth, the Bass Performance Hall, too. has made an impact. Open since last May, the hall is more than simply astriking work of architecture; it’s also a civic cash cow. The symphony, opera, and ballet report increases in ticket sales. And local restaurants have seen a significant jump in “incidental food item” sales such as post-performance dessert and coffee. This year, at least four new eateries will open in and around Sundance Square. The Bass Hall’s managing director, Paul Beard, says the success of the hall has prompted other cities to take a closer look at building similar performing arts venues. “We now find ourselves hosting groups who are contemplating building a facility like this in other cities,” he says. “To a large extent, they’re emulating us.”

THE NOTION OF “CULTURAL TOURISM” is common in Europe, where travelers are expected to take in the Louvre, the Victoria & Albert, or, now, the Guggenheim Bilbao. But it’s not so common in America, where we associate tourists with destinations like Disney World.

But tourists, as it turns out, do enjoy an evening at the theater or a look at internationally acclaimed artwork. Even in non-traditional tourist destinations like Dallas and Fort Worth. The arts bring more to the city than just prestige; they bring people and their money. Consider this:

Cincinnati recently discovered its arts opportunities were more than a local success: A 1997 survey found that 1.2 million arts patrons had come from outside the Greater Cincinnati area.

In 1997, Atlanta’s arts community-including the High Museum of Art, the Atlanta Ballet, and the Atlanta Opera-generated $156 million in revenue (including government grants); ancillary spending by arts patrons reached $287 million.

‧ In 1994/’95, attendance at cultural events in Miami and Dade County, Fla., reached 3.5 million, an increase of 600,000 over three years. A new performing arts fa cility, funded by a mix of tax dollars and pri vate investment, is expected to bring some $280 million worth of improvements to the local arts scene when it opens in 2002.

The City of Dallas is expecting similar economic results with its recently unveiled plan to revamp the Arts District. Last May, voters approved more than $10 million to purchase land for a new performing arts center, which would include facilities for The Dallas Opera and Dallas Summer Musicals, among others. The $32 million Nasher Sculpture Garden (scheduled to open in 2001) and the recently opened Crow Collection of Asian Art are expected to draw thousands of visitors a year and create jobs; the NasherGarden will likely pump $11 million into the local economy each year, according to a consultant’s study.

Of course, outsiders like to think of the Cowboys and the Ewings when they think of Dallas. But “Dallas has probably been a cultural destination for longer than we realize,” says Margie Reese, director of the city’s cultural affairs office. The state fair dates back to the 1930s, the Dallas Museum of Art was founded (as the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts) in 1903, and the symphony is almost 100 years old. Not bad for such a (relatively) young town.

For The Dallas Opera, the new Arts District would mean more than a new, improved home; it would also mean greater visibility. “The new hall would give us the opportunity to lengthen our season and enhance our ability to produce quality opera,” says Sid Mallory, director of external affairs at the Dallas Opera.

Mallory and others at the Opera hope that being in the city’s cultural heart will meet the goal of virtually every arts organization: attracting a younger audience. “We believe that the Arts District should be a people place,” he says. “Having a space in the Arts District will attract a whole new audience, some younger than we have today.”

The current occupants of the Arts District already know the importance of economics. In the 1997/’98 season, the Meyerson Symphony Center played host to 533 concerts and other events. Average yearly attendance tops 380,000. Add up the number of performances with the patrons’ parking and dining needs, and the impact becomes significant.

The Dallas Museum of Art experienced success with its l997/”98 exhibit. Searching for Ancient Egypt. Of the 120,000 people who saw the exhibit, more than 31,000 came from outside Dallas-Fort Worth. Those visitors spent more than $7 million on food, transportation, and lodging.

Such numbers speak well for the District’s future. “The Arts District will be a community, not just a destination,” says the Dallas Museum of Art’s interim director Charles Venable. “It will be a lot about art, but also about living near art.” with tenants filling the apartment buildings planned for the area. Venable believes that the Nasher Garden and the multi-purpose performing arts center will help add life to the area. “People will be living here during the day-they won’t just go into the underground parking,” he says. “It’s really a community aspect.”


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