1A Panel: art IS economic development

by Wynce Nolley

One Acadiana panel examines the area's rich arts and culture scene and explains how it drives the local economy.

Scott Feehan-Festival International; Gregg Gothreaux-LEDA; Gerd Wustesrmann-AcA; Ben Berthelot-LCVC; and Dr. Barry Ancelet-Festivals Acadiens et Creoles
Photo by Wynce Nolley

One Acadiana's April Arts & Culture Council luncheon focused on the richness of the area's arts and culture scene, concluding that it is integral to the region’s quality of life and more of an economic driver than most people imagine.

For every dollar spent at Festival International, at least another 25 cents is added to the local economy, the panelists said. The direct economic impact of Festival International is $29 million to $30 million, a number that rises to about $49 million once indirect benefits are added to the tally.

For every 1,000 attendees to Festival Acadiens et Creoles, it is estimated that $161,250 in direct local spending is generated. If 15,000 people attend Festivals Acadiens, for example, the total impact on direct spending would be $2.4 million, a figure that does not include indirect spending, which can be larger than the direct impact.

The luncheon was held at the Acadiana Center for the Arts and featured guest panelists Gregg Gothreaux, president and CEO of LEDA; Ben Berthelot, executive director of LCVC; Scott Feehan, executive director of Festival International de Louisiane; and Cajun Folklorist Barry Ancelet, who helped found Festivals Acadiens et Creoles.

One of the first questions the panel was asked was about the role that festivals play in Lafayette being named “The Happiest City in America.”

“The great thing about Festival International and Festival Acadiens is when people come into town before the festival, they can already experience it,” said Berthelot. “You can feel it. There’s a vibe in our community all the time but in particular for these two weeks of the year. If we could replicate that 365 days a year it would be great. And we do have it, but we just need to take it to the next level.”

The main topic of the discussion was the economic impact of festivals in Acadiana and how that's measured, a calculation based on attendance of locals vs. visitors, including how out-of-town visitors spend more money in different ways.

The panel also touched on the difference between impact and value, where impact is a tangible dollar amount while value is more intangible and bigger in scope, encompassing public relations, cultural impact, quality of life.

“A lot of people are moving back here and a lot of people are understanding that they want to live here because the quality of life is great,” said Gothreaux. “They don’t have to go to Chicago to experience their version of quality of life. And I understand the big city attraction but the truth of the matter is more and more, day to day having the right atmosphere makes a difference. When you’ve got genuine culture, that makes a huge difference.”

The panel also addressed the fact that festivals are not created to strategically produce economic development in communities, but if a festival is successful, the economic development opportunities are a welcome by-product.

The panel also addressed the impact of the region’s entertainment industry, including arts, culture, recreation, tourism and retail.

Also mentioned was the fact that more people traveling to Lafayette has led to 30 new hotels being built in the past 10 years, which has increased room capacity by 41 percent (2,038 additional rooms) to accommodate the higher demand.

It is estimated that Lafayette Parish’s retail market has a surplus of 94,000 people, which is the second highest in the state and is pulling in customers from outside of the parish.

The amount spent by domestic visitors in Lafayette Parish in 2014 was $489 million. The number of jobs supported in Lafayette Parish by domestic visitors in 2014 was 3,700. And the average total amount spent by visitors in Lafayette during a single trip is $399.

The panel also acknowledged that the area’s rich culture is what saved its economy during the oil bust of the 1980s is poised to be a key factor in helping the economy emerge from the current pricing slump.

“Why do people come here?” asked Ancelet. “There aren’t any ski slopes. There aren’t any white sand beaches. They come for us. And we have to be careful about how we do it because we don’t want to inadvertently trample what we’re asking them to come to visit.

“So we have to be careful and we have to nurture it,” added Ancelet. “We have to be culturally and ecologically minded. We have be careful how we do it. But they are coming for us. They’re coming for our music and our food and the interactions that they have with us. And we have to understand that that’s the engine that saved us twice now, in the 80s and now, and we keep counting on it, and we need to understand that it’s a good investment. It’s economically sound. It actually does move money. It makes people happy.”