Arts & Humanities Has Earned Its Place as an Economic Driver

Posted April 16, 2024
Arts and humanities in Iowa City, Coralville, and North Liberty

Aspiring to be the “Greatest Small City for the Arts,” the economic impact of the arts & humanities industry is anything but small for Iowa City. Iowa City is widely recognized as a vibrant hub where arts & humanities flourish. The state recently designated downtown Iowa City as an official Iowa Cultural & Entertainment District. At the core of this creative hub are esteemed programs offered by the University of Iowa. The Master of Fine Arts program and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop attract talented artists from around the globe. The impact of these students and a local community that values the arts is seen throughout Johnson County in its diverse array of cultural experiences, from galleries, museums, and theaters to music and public art. 


Although this cluster of creative businesses, education, and opportunities developed organically, local industry leaders are collaborating to intentionally champion the arts & humanities in Johnson County. The recent launch of the X Marks the Arts campaign underscores the area’s commitment to nurturing its artistic community. These campaigns unite artists, creatives, businesses, and community members to create a fertile ground for artistic innovation and entrepreneurship. 


What is the impact of these efforts? Arts & humanities have become an economic powerhouse for Johnson County. The Arts & Economic Prosperity 6 (AEP6) study revealed that Johnson County’s arts & humanities industry produced $32 million and over 500 jobs in 2022. The effects extend beyond dollars and sense, supporting the local economy at every level. 


A vibrant arts & humanities scene attracts both workforce and new companies. More than two-thirds of young people choose a place to live before a job. Quality of life and enrichment opportunities are key factors in their decisions. Arts & humanities play a big role in creating attractive spaces. The AEP6 study found that 89% of arts attendees agreed the activity or venue they were attending was “a source of neighborhood pride for the community.” Following the workforce, companies decide where to locate their businesses using factors such as the ready availability of a creative workforce and the quality of life available to employees. 


Arts & humanities events and experiences also bring foot traffic to local brick-and-mortar businesses. The AEP6 study estimated that each visitor to a downtown Iowa City arts or cultural event, on average, spends $47 beyond the ticket fee. This may include food, drinks, souvenirs, and purchases from surrounding retailers. The survey also found that nationally, one third of event attendees travel from outside the county in which the activity takes place. They spend an average of $60 beyond the ticket fee – even more than the amount of their local counterparts. 


Finally, a thriving arts & humanities industry cluster creates a larger workforce with an abundance of creativity and artistic qualifications. Local companies take advantage of these skills to drive innovation, marketing, problem solving, and design. This fuels the hub of companies from design and architecture to marketing and sales in the Iowa City area. It’s hard to overstate the direct skills transferability between the arts and humanities cluster and these creative industries. However, it goes even further than that: advanced manufacturing companies across the region benefit from the hands-on creation abilities and problem-solving skills, leading to enhanced product development and design solutions as their IP goes from idea to commercial viability. 


Johnson County’s arts & humanities industry fuels the local economy at every level. Due to University of Iowa programs, local support, and industry collaboration – greater Iowa City’s creative hub has become a key factor in the area’s economic engine. It has earned its place as a key industry cluster in greater Iowa City.