I've looked at several studies of the economic impact of the arts & culture industries, and the results are quite amazing. For a review, check out Arts and Economic Prosperity from Americans for the Arts.
Santa Fe NM has the largest proportion of artists, performers, and writers as a share of total employment of any city in the country. Also, the contribution of the arts to the economy in Sante Fe exceeds that of any other city. Thus, Sante Fe is a huge success story that we could emulate. Here is one amazing statistic from their study that describes perfectly the economic benefit of the arts. The volume of dollars brought into Sante Fe by the arts is roughly equal to that contributed to the whole state of New Mexico by the Intel Corporation, the largest private sector employer. (Of course, Intel gets lots of tax breaks, like most manufacturers.) Wouldn't this be wonderful?
Arts are not just for the elite. A national study found that over half the American public attends an arts event every year. Arts are also good for business. A Delaware study found that 88% of businesses report that arts are an inportant criteria of quality of life, a third of businesses cite the arts when recruiting new employees, and half of business contribute to the arts. Delaware arts organizations return about $15 back to the community for every $1 contributed. (Compare with casinos that costs taxpayers $3 for $1 paid in taxes.)
In the mid 1990's, Wilmington Delaware had an exhaustive search for new ways to revitalize its downtown. Guess what it came up with? Based on the Savannah GA experience, they opened the Delaware College of Art and Design in 1997, and it's a terrific success. Wilmington liked the benefits of the arts so much that shortly thereafter it opened the Riverfront Art Center. (Look at this and drool!)
While looking through all these studies, I noticed a continuing emphasis on the fact that art brings in money from outside the community. This is important because local spending does not create new jobs or income. Local spending only redistributes existing dollars, whereas funds coming from elsewhere create new jobs and new sources of income. For example, in the Sante Fe study, 78% of the total revenue from the arts in Sante Fe is from outside the county. For the state of Delaware, it was over half - and that was reported before the full benefit of the college and riverfront development had occurred.
Now contrast this with casinos who draw mostly from the local area. This just takes money we are currently spending in our community and sends it to some gazillionaires in Vegas. Smart? Oh well, no one ever accused our city leaders of being brilliant.
An art economy is so perfect for Natchez - if only we had city leaders with a little imagination. We somehow have to figure out how to keep them from destroying the riverfront before we can kick them out of office.