Arts growing in Durham, Wake

Eleanor Oakley
Eleanor Oakley

Todd Cohen

DURHAM, N.C. — The creative sector in Durham and Wake counties is thriving.

Despite the recession, the number of highly creative jobs grew nearly 10 percent to 6,608 in Durham County from 2006 to 2008, and nearly 2.5 percent to 14,624 in  Wake County, according to a new report.

In 2008, the report says, nonprofit arts groups and nonprofits active in the arts earned over $28 million in revenues in Durham County and $150 million in Wake  County.

Those are among a broad range of metrics in the report, which for the first time provides a “creative vitality index” that gauges the health of the creative economy in the two counties.

The strength of the creative economies in Durham and in Wake, including both the nonprofit and for-profit sectors, exceeded those of North Carolina and the United States in 2008.

The strength of Durham’s creative economy exceeded that of the United States by 26 percent and North Carolina’s by 90 percent, while Wake’s exceeded that of the United States by 28 percent and North Carolina’s by 95 percent.

“We’re above average and doing fairly well,” says Eleanor Oakley, president and CEO of the United Arts Council of Raleigh and Wake County. “We compete fairly strongly nationally.”

Sherry DeVries, executive director of the Durham Arts Council, says

Durham historically has enjoyed a strong nonprofits arts sector, and in the past few years has seen a surge in the for-profit arts sector, resulting in a “critical mass of arts activity in Durham overall.”

The study, prepared for the two counties by Western States Arts Federation, uses the number “1” to represent a national baseline.

Durham exceeded that baseline by 25 percent in 2006, 22 percent in 2007, and 26 percent in 2008, while Wake exceeded it by 29 percent in 2006, 19 percent in 2007 and 28 percent in 2008.

In 2008, creative occupations per capita in Durham exceeded the national average by 75 percent and the statewide average by 218 percent, while creative occupations in Wake exceeded the national average by 18 percent and the statewide average by 46 percent.

Oakley says Western States Arts Federation compared an eight-county region that includes Wake and Durham to 20 peer metro areas, including those the region typically competes with in recruiting corporate headquarters, and found the region ranked seventh.

Oakley and DeVries say the arts sector in both counties continues to cope with the economic downturn, and has benefited from government investment.

DeVries says she anticipates growth in performing-arts participation, overall arts revenues and probably in individual artists’ sales.

As part of its work to support the arts, the Durham Arts Council provides training programs to help artists develop and grow their businesses.

Oakley says it is good news that none of the 45 largest nonprofit arts groups in Wake has gone out of business.

“The trick in a period of years like this,” she says, “is to hang on, make plans for better times, and try to maintain as much of your programming momentum as you can.”

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