Bangor’s nonprofit art and cultural organizations in 2015 generated $10 million in economic activity and created hundreds of full-time jobs, according to a study from a Washington D.C. lobbyist group.
The study, completed by the organization Americans for the Arts, found that 14 nonprofits in Bangor, including the Penobscot Theatre Company, the American Folk Festival, the Maine Discovery Museum, the University of Maine Museum of Art, and the Bangor Historical Society, spent $3.4 million in fiscal 2015, and audiences at their events spent $6.6 million.
Those organizations also support 312 full-time equivalent jobs, generating $6.2 million in household incomes to local residents, according to the report. Americans for the Arts lobbies for arts funding and education. The report is based on surveys of people who attended events hosted by those nonprofits.
The group studied 340 other regions across the country, including Portland, where 46 of its nonprofits generated $75.6 million, it said. Throughout Maine, nonprofits generated $150.5 million in economic activity.
The study underscores the need for Bangor to invest more in those kinds organizations through grants, said Mary Budd, executive director of the city’s Commission on Culture Development.
“The nonprofit community depends on grants to support its mission so all of these grants allow us to carry out our work,” said Budd, who is also the executive director of the Penobscot Theatre Company.
In fiscal 2017, Bangor budgeted $15,000 for cultural development grants that helped fund everything from the Penobscot Theater Company’s Dramatic Academy to the Maine Troop Greeters’ new museum at Bangor International Airport.
That spending was an increase from the $10,000 that the city had budgeted annually the five years prior, according to Zeth Lundy, the city’s downtown cultural liaison. But in 2007, the city budgeted about $125,000 towards the cultural commission — $75,000 of which supported the American Folk Festival, the weekend long annual festival, which still receives $50,000 worth of city services annually, Lundy said.
Budd told city councilors during a meeting Monday night that Bangor’s cultural and art nonprofits cannot continue to rely on donations to stay afloat and need more money from the city. During an interview after the meeting, Budd did not suggest a dollar amount, but was hoping the report would start the conversation about the city providing additional funding down the road.
“I hope this data will kind of shift the conversation to how can we grow,” Budd said during the meeting. “I implore you to look at the infrastructure that is currently in place and think deeply about how to ensure that the organizations that currently exist survive and thrive.”
City councilors David Nealley and Ben Sprague blamed state funding cuts on the drop in funding for the cultural commission over the past 10 years.
City Councilor Gibran Graham said the economic impact report shows the city needs to find a way to boost funding, despite the lack of state funding. But Sprague said the city would need to increase property taxes to spend more on arts and culture.
“This conversation tugs at my heartstring so much because we all want to invest more if we can. The big difference between now and 2008 or 2010 is Augusta,” Sprague said. “Every time we move the needle on something to spend, it is hurting some of the same people that we’re trying to help and that’s been a tough nut to crack.”