Credit: courtesy Chicago Loop Alliance

Don’t think of Chicago’s Loop art scene as just the city’s pretty face.

According to a study released today by the Chicago Loop Alliance—which, as an organization whose mission is to attract people and investment to the Loop, has a whole lot of skin in the game—it’s also a major economic driver.

According to the “Arts in the Loop Economic Impact” study:

  • Chicago’s Loop Arts District has a hefty $2.25 billion economic impact
  • Draws an impressive 28.4 million annual visitors 
  • Sells 7.4 million performance tickets and museum entries annually, more than all the city’s professional sports teams combined.

And, the study says, if you don’t count Broadway/Times Square, the Loop is the most economically powerful arts district in the United States.

Of course, Broadway/Times Square is hard to overlook.  And those 28.4 million annual visitors?  They include not just paying customers but also a guesstimate of how many folks are merely walking around, looking at public art.

So, before we launch into more details from this very positive report on our unarguably world-class downtown arts cluster, a word of caution.  It’s a marketing piece.

Remember the city’s infamous attendance estimate of five million people for the Cubs World Series championship parade?  “Arts in the Loop” isn’t that exuberant, but, like other economic impact studies, it’s not totally precise science either.

In particular, comparisons of its results to the results of other studies (with different criteria) are, as its authors note, dicey.

The “Arts in the Loop Economic Impact Study,” commissioned by the Chicago Loop Alliance, is the work of two consulting firms: HR&A Advisors, Inc., which is headquartered in New York City and specializes in real estate, economic development, and public consulting, and ArtsMarket, a cultural sector consultant out of Bozeman, Montana. 

The research consists of information gathered from nonprofit, for-profit, and government bodies in the Loop area (including 72 arts institutions, 120 public art pieces, and more than 50 architecturally significant buildings), and the results of an online survey conducted between October 15, 2017, and January 15, 2018, that was completed by 12,161 people.

Economic impact was calculated using the amount spent by the arts institutions and by visitors, both “directly,” at the arts venues and “indirectly,” at other businesses such as restaurants, shops, and hotels. It also includes “induced impact,” which is a sort of ripple-effect estimation of the value of things like jobs in other industries supported by the direct and indirect spending.

Among the findings:

  • 77,800 people (on average) are in the Loop for art every day
  • Arts visitors typically come to the Loop for art 12 times a year
  • They visit 2.2 arts destinations per trip
  • They spend nearly $250 million on tickets and admission fees
  • $113.5 million in restaurants
  • $78 million in hotels
  • $43 million on transportation and parking
  • Contribute $40 million in sales and hotel tax revenue.
  • And every dollar spent on a ticket generates $12 in economic impact

The most common attribute among these arts patrons in the Loop? Education: 85 percent of survey respondents reported completing college or graduate school. 

Chicago Loop Alliance president Michael Edwards said in a prepared statement, “With this study, we’ve been able to show with hard numbers that arts and culture play a huge role in the economy, and based on thousands of heartfelt survey responses, they also represent the soul of the city of Chicago to both residents and visitors alike.” 

The study includes a breezy history of arts in the Loop, from the rebuilding after the Great Fire of 1871 through some “tarnished” decades to the completion of Millennium Park.  It demonstrates that Chicago had chops as a cultural city long before Richard Florida started prescribing these kinds of amenities to attract the creative class.

Someone might want to send a copy to Amazon.