Students from The University of Akron and Akron Public Schools working on Art Bomb Brigade’s first project at the Downtown Laundromat on day five of the project. The group has been working to finish the mural by June 24.

The arts in Ohio are worth $41 billion, study says

by Noor Hindi

“There is a future in creative industry,” says Bill Behrendt, Executive Director of Ohio Citizens for the Arts (OCA). And a new study from his organization suggests that he’s right.

The study, published today, finds that the creative industries in Ohio support 289,321 jobs annually, fuel more than $41 billion in economic activity, and generate over $4.5 billion in federal, state and local tax revenue.

In 2013, OCA did a similar study. Their results have almost doubled. According to Behrendt, in 2013, creative industries in Ohio contributed $23.6 billion in economic activity, supported 197,743 jobs and generated $2.437 billion in tax revenue.

The outcome of the study, which was produced in partnership with the Center for Regional Development and Bowling Green State University, is a rallying cry for the arts. It shows that the arts are not only here to stay, but for cities like Akron and Cleveland, they could be our launchpad into the future.

“I think this study is representative of larger trends in the workforce and in education — what employers of the future will be looking for that’s not necessarily, ‘can you come in and punch a clock?’ It’s more, ‘What kind of ideas can you come up with?’” says Behrendt.

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The report details how much money cities in Ohio bring in through the arts. For Akron, specifically, OCA finds that the arts have created more than 17,000 jobs, generated over $2.4 billion in economic activity, and put about $768 billion in Akronites’ pockets in paychecks annually.

The largest employment block is independent artists, writers and performers, with 2,738 jobs.

The report provides a tangible way for organizations throughout Ohio to argue for better funding for the arts.

“People can understand, to a degree, how the arts can be healing and how the arts can be good for your person and for your family. But I think sometimes people don’t realize that the arts are not just a ‘nice to have,’ but the arts are a really smart investment to make for communities,” says Nicole Mullet, Executive Director of ArtsNow, which “works to leverage the arts and culture in Summit County to support and strengthen the region’s economic and social vibrancy,” according to their website.

Behrendt says that within the last five years, public funding for the arts has expanded. He hypothesizes that growing public funding has contributed to this growing economic impact. For Behrendt and Mullet, they see cities like Akron and Cleveland shifting away from manufacturing to a more “knowledge-based economy,” as Behrendt puts it.

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“Akron has always been a place of makers,” says Mullet. “It’s what we do. We make things. And we innovate. And we find ways to move forward.”

These findings should empower artists to better advocate for themselves. Hannah Troyer, a community organizer and storyteller, has seen first-hand how little artists often get paid for their work, or worse, they’re only paid through “exposure.”

“We have so much funding for arts here in Akron, but in my experience, I have seen little of it make its way all the way down, into the hands of the actual artists,” she says. “Organizations in Akron with funding for arts need to identify grassroots community leaders that will be able to spread more of this funding throughout the community, and then entrust them to do just that.”

Mullet says ArtsNow will continue advocating for artists by connecting them to each other and to the community. She says ArtsNow is continually looking for unique ways artists can help problem solve local and national issues. She points to findings from Americans for the Arts, which has studied the impact the arts have on different sectors like health and wellness, the environment and infrastructure.

For example, Americans for the Arts has found that arts programs in prisons lead to 30 percent fewer parole violations after release and a 75 percent decrease in disciplinary infractions. They’ve found that having a cultural organization in a community can raise property values up by 20 percent. Mullet says finding ways artists can help tackle issues like this are key to facilitating success both for the community and the individual artist.

“How can the arts come alongside other efforts to advance common goals? I think there’s a lot of opportunity for that in Akron,” she says.

For Troyer and other artists, they’re hungry for inclusion. They’re ready to move into healthier conversations about how art can drive local economy and connect people to their communities in meaningful ways.

Local artist and community builder Stephanie Leonardi agrees.

“When you create spaces or experiences where people can connect with each other and experience something that they weren’t originally open to, that changes the way they engage with other people and other groups.”

The OCA report was developed in conjunction with the Center for Regional Development and Bowling Green State University. To read the report, visit

Noor Hindi is The Devil Strip’s Senior Reporter. Email her at 

Photo at top: Michelle DeShon. Read more about this mural.