Study paints a bright picture of arts groups’ boost to region

One of the many gardens featured during a previous Concord Museum Garden Tour.
Concord Museum
One of the many gardens featured during a previous Concord Museum Garden Tour.

Museums, theaters, and art schools are apparently bringing more than just culture and entertainment to area communities. According to a recent study, arts and cultural organizations provide millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs to the region.

The MetroWest Visitors Bureau commissioned the study to quantify the economic impact of the 21 arts and cultural organizations that are members of the bureau, according to spokeswoman Julie Dennehy.

“These survey results were not surprising at all; in fact, they simply validated our knowledge of how important the arts and cultural organizations are to our region,” said Susan Nicholl, the bureau’s executive director.


According to the study conducted by Carlisle & Co., a consulting firm based in Concord, the economic impact of the 21 organizations is projected to total nearly $375 million over the five-year period from 2012 to 2016.

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Last year, the equivalent of 721 full-time jobs were generated through either direct employment by the organizations or the ripple effect on industries such as hotels and restaurants, the study said; it predicted that the number would increase to 868 in 2016.

Nicholl said the findings mean that arts and cultural organizations contribute in a meaningful way to the region’s overall economic health.

“The MetroWest is rich in arts and cultural organizations that inspire, involve, and connect us,” said Marilyn Martino, executive director of the Sudbury Foundation, which sponsored the economic impact study for the visitors bureau. “This study demonstrates how these agencies create jobs and contribute to the region’s economy. It’s important that we recognize this, and support this vibrant element of our region.”

According to the bureau, the study indicates that money spent by a creative organization — including operations, attendance by visitors from outside the region, employees, endowments, and investments — spreads beyond its host community, contributing to the region’s total economy.


For example, an institution such as a museum every years draws thousands of visitors from outside the region who often patronize other businesses, such as local restaurants.

Marie Craig is a codirector of Fountain Street Fine Art, a membership-operated gallery that serves as a resource for artists and art patrons that opened in a century-old converted factory near downtown Framingham in 2011. Craig said that the people who rent space are a “hodgepodge” of artists and craftsmen whose small businesses keep Fountain Street Fine Art afloat, even in tough economic times.

Fountain Street’s gallery is a draw for visitors and locals alike, and the current exhibition of urban landscape paintings, “Sight Lines,” has been drawing visitors from Boston, Craig said.

“We’re a destination,” she said. “People come here to see artwork. But they also get hungry. They need gas. They want something to do next.”

So the gallery has been providing visitors with recommendations to local restaurants, and passes to the Danforth Museum of Art.


“What people who have either grown up in the MetroWest area or transplanted are finding is there’s a real vibrant cultural sector that’s growing fast,” said Craig. “You just have to look a little harder to find it.”

‘We’re a destination. People come here to see artwork. But they also get hungry. They need gas. They want something to do next.’

Ginger McEachern is a co-owner of Five Crows, a downtown Natick retailer that sells clothing, paintings, and handmade crafts by 150 mostly local artists. McEachern said her store has managed to stay afloat in a stormy economy since it opened 11 years ago.

“We’ve had a couple things going for us. Handmade is becoming more desirable and recognized. People like to know that someone in their area has made what they’re buying. Supporting locally made products has done a lot for us, as well as Natick,” she said.

Five Crows patrons are a mix of Natick and Framingham residents and visitors from areas in and around Marlborough and Worcester. McEachern said she encourages her patrons to eat and shop locally.

“We like to spread the wealth around, because we all benefit. No business is an island. We have to work as a team. We advertise together, we promote each other. If you can get out of your own space and look at a bigger picture, the more everybody benefits.”

Dennehy said she believes that the economic impact of cultural organizations may be even greater than what the study indicated; there were many organizations that didn’t participate in the survey because they didn’t fit the study’s model.

Nicholl agreed: “This is really just a slice,” she said. “We can only imagine what the impact is overall.”

The MetroWest organizations covered by the study are the Amazing Things Arts Center in Framingham; the Center for Arts in Natick; Commonwealth Ballet in Acton; Concord Museum; Danforth Museum; Discovery Museums in Acton; Five Crows; Fountain Street Fine Art; Framingham History Center; Franklin Performing Arts Company; Franklin School for the Performing Arts; Hopkinton Center for the Arts; Massachusetts Audubon Society, which has properties in Belmont, Groton, Hopkinton Lincoln, Natick, and Norfolk; Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton; Natick Center Associates; Natick Historical Society; New England Wildflower Society in Framingham; Palettes in Natick; Spellman Museum of Stamps & Postal History in Weston; Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston; and the Wayside Inn in Sudbury.

John Swinconeck can be reached at johnswinc@ gmail.com.