Art generates a substantial amount of revenue in Pitkin County — and second-home owners in particular love their art in Aspen and Snowmass.
Those were at least two of the many takeaways from an arts and culture economic impact study presented to the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners during a work session Tuesday.
According to the study, managed by RRC Associates, arts and culture accounted for roughly 12% of Pitkin County’s economy in 2019, generating roughly $451 million.
But that study followed June 2019 through February 2020 — right before COVID-19 changed every economic landscape.
“There probably is a much larger economic impact from the arts in Aspen,” Commissioner Steve Child said during Tuesday’s BOCC work session. “It’d probably be impossible to measure the total economic impact but I think it’s greater than the number you came up with.”
According to BOCC correspondence, the 2019 economic impact study was a collaboration between ACRA, the city of Aspen, Snowmass Tourism and 12 Aspen Snowmass arts and culture organizations. The last time a similar study had been conducted was in the early 2000s. Numerous entities helped fund the study including the city of Aspen, which contributed $10,000 in 2019 and an additional $9,000 in 2020 for the effort.
The 23-page study examined numerous data sets including paid attendance for live performances, lectures, festivals, and other ticketed events in Pitkin County. In doing so, the study attempted to quantify both the direct and indirect effects the arts had on the local economy. Child found the study to be beneficial but also pointed out how art in Aspen extended well beyond just ticketed events and painting sales.
“Part of being in Aspen is being on the mall and hearing musicians playing music — like the bassoon quintet that I stood and listened to one day,” Child said. “That’s part of being in Aspen, and that brings more people to Aspen than [walking] through the doors of the different venues,” Child said.
Commissioners were hopeful that Pitkin County’s thriving art scene would return stronger than ever when live festival performances could resume at more normal capacities.
“I have noticed in the last year the dearth of arts and culture through COVID. [It] really changed the nature of our town in my opinion, as an observer and a lifelong participant in arts and culture in Aspen,” Commissioner Greg Poschman said. “That really is what makes our community unique.”
In a separate interview Tuesday, Aspen Art Gallery Director Ben Tomkins said the local art community was lucky to have such a devout following even during a pandemic.
“I remember the first days, when this all started, really thinking about what it would really mean,” said Tomkins, who has worked at the Aspen Art Gallery for the last five years. “It definitely wasn’t as destructive as we were first worried about.”
The Aspen Art Gallery closed in late February 2020 and did not reopen until May 23 due to COVID-19, Tomkins said. However, local real-estate transactions and the return of numerous second-home owners to the area likely helped the gallery have a successful summer last year.
“People were wanting to get out of these big cities,” he said. “We’re of course very lucky in Aspen that, you know, it doesn’t matter how much darkness there is in the country.”
According to Tuesday’s presentation, roughly 5,000 second homes exist in Pitkin County, which equates to roughly 35% of the county’s housing stock. The economic impact study also found that roughly a quarter of the county’s second-home owners purchased those properties due to the county’s art and cultural offerings.