We can argue until we're blue in the face over which artists had the biggest impact during their stint at SXSW. We can write think-pieces, measure social media interaction, and rummage through mounds of press coverage. The only indisputable fact is that year-after-year the biggest winner at SXSW is the city of Austin, TX. According to a 2012 study, Austin's creative sector, accounts for more than $71 million in annual tax revenue for the city. Granted, the impact stretches well beyond SXSW, but the bulk of that sum is derived from tourism. In 2010, the creative sector provided nearly 50,000 jobs in Austin. From the early estimates on SXSW '13 these numbers only appear to be growing. The study went further, saying:
"To put these results in context, the creative sector (as measured by employment) has risen by about twenty‐five percent over the past five years, a pace more rapid than the ten percent growth for the local economy as a whole."
These are numbers that civic leaders around the country cannot afford to ignore. *cough* Mayor Ballard *cough*. Now, that isn't to say that just any city can open up shop and say, "Hey we're hosting South By redux next week, come join us!" But what Austin is proving is that a significant commitment to the creative sector can have a stimulating impact across all sectors of the community.
"Austin is a place that appreciates creativity and culture in a variety of evolving forms, which serves to both attract and retain talented people," the study concluded. "This in turn has a significant impact on business recruitment, retention, and expansion, as well as local entrepreneurship. As has long been the case, the sum is greater than the parts; and the parts have become so interconnected as to make traditional distinctions between them almost meaningless."
These numbers echo the sentiments that MFT founder, Jeb Banner, expressed in a disgruntled blog post following the most recent Broad Ripple Music Fest. Indianapolis is in a prime position geographically and from a cost-of-living standpoint to serve as the home base for a variety of touring musicians. Organizations like MOKB Presents and Musical Family Tree are working daily to attract national attention to Indy's music scene. Unfortunately, these efforts and those of other like-minded indivduals remain disjointed, lacking a clear long-term path toward a thriving and economically stable creative sector.
Several decades ago, Mayor Hudnut partnered with local business leaders to form Indiana Sports Corporation in an effort to transform Indianapolis as a premier destination for professional and amateur athletics. Years later, as Indy plays home to the NCAA headquarters and relishes in the success of its recent Super Bowl, it's hard to argue that those early efforts have paid off. However, why should Indy rest on its laurels, content with a one-dimensional approach to civic engagement? In a sense, we've conquered the sports landscape and it's long past time to make Indy's cultural experience a more dynamic one.
Indianapolis is located in the center of a fiscally conservative state, where funding for the arts is largely an afterthought. My hope is that as Austin continues to report annual employment growth that outpaces the rest of the country, local leaders will begin to take note of the potential that the arts offer in attracting talented young professionals to staff our burgeoning tech and start-up scenes. This objective moves beyond fun weekend activities, affecting jobs, development, and untapped sources of tax revenue - topics that should motivate any politician.