Rethinking the Arts: Arts Spending in Wisconsin and the US

Rethinking the Arts: Arts Spending in Wisconsin and the US

Arts Spending in Wisconsin

Arts Spending vs the State Budget

The 48th Worst Funded State vs Everyone Else

Art and Taxes

  • 48.1% of Wisconsin’s tax revenues come from income taxes. That means the average Wisconsin resident only pays 6 to 7 cents of their annual taxes to the arts. Even in Minnesota, spending on the arts only comes to $3.42 of the income taxes that Minnesotans pay.
  • In sum, slashing arts budgets does little to save the middle-class American on their tax bill.
  • Also, FYI, if you don’t think taxpayer money should pay for art, remember that when artists donate a work of art to a fundraising auction, they can’t write that donation off on their tax filings. However, if a collector buys that work of art and donates that same piece to the same causes, the collector can write off the purchase as a tax deduction.

Economic Impact of the Arts

  • Arts nonprofits in Wisconsin “generated $657 million in economic activity annually, resulting in $75 million in local and state tax revenues…and $555 million in resident income.” $75 million in local and state taxes?? That’s a hell of a return on investment for $811,800. If any other industry had that kind of return, our state would be funding the shit out of it.
  • Of that $657 million, $280 million are for event-related expenses, meaning that if people go out to see a show at the theatre, they are also spending at restaurants, on hotels, on babysitters, etc. The reach of the arts goes far beyond arts expenditures.
  • The arts outperform both transportation and agriculture in their contribution to economic activity.
  • Moreover, the above report focuses solely on arts nonprofits and doesn’t even begin to quantify how much for-profit arts businesses contribute to the state economy.

What Can We Do?

For too long, we’ve accepted low funding and expectations as just the way things are. The only way things change is for people on all fronts to be educated on the problem and to say that enough is enough.

For artists, this means asserting your value and not letting yourself get taken advantage of. Remember that where you set the bar for yourself is where you set the bar for others who are also trying to make a living.

For non-artists, this means re-evaluating how you and your community spend money. Will you buy cheap, disposable goods that don’t last, or well-made artist and artisanal goods that will last a lifetime? Will you invest in monotonous franchises and fast retail, or the unique design of your city, community landmarks, and cultural experiences?

Since we can’t change arts funding in Wisconsin or the US overnight, we need individuals and private/for-profit businesses to step up and invest in the arts. Keep in mind, this doesn’t just mean donating to your local arts charity. It also means hiring artists by businesses across industries. It means building art and design into the forefront of businesses, homes, schools, and public spaces, instead of treating them like an afterthought. Creativity and the Creative Economy are 21st-century buzzwords, and it’s time we put our money where our mouth is.

This essay is a part of a series called Rethinking the Arts, about the challenges we face and what to do about them. Got questions or interested in a particular topic? Comments welcome.

Cover image of watercolor by Jenie Gao.

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