The Arts on Hilton Head Island

Recently, I have written about Millennials changing business in America, how Dodd-Frank is impacting our local banks and local economy, and in January I made my 10 predictions for 2016. 

This month I thought I would take a crack at what is going on in the Arts Community in Hilton Head, and how our many arts organizations are contributing economically to the Hilton Head Island community.

All of our readers know how lucky we are to live here on this beautiful island. We have proof because 99.5% of us came from somewhere else. On Hilton Head Island we have some of the most ecologically sensitive developments anywhere, with beautiful trees and a minimum of nighttime light pollution. Island and Bluffton residents have ready access to first-class healthcare and commercial and professional services usually found in cities two or three times our size. This place we call home is also blessed with an arts community that spans the entire spectrum of arts offerings.

Recently the Town of Hilton Head pulled together a group of residents and formed the “Arts & Cultural Strategic Planning Committee,” and in January of 2016 they issued their “Final Report.”  The Committee, chaired by Jane Joseph and Vice-Chairman Maryann Bastnagel, along with seven of our fellow Hilton Head Islanders, with incredible arts related experience, took a deep dive into how our community benefits from the arts.  Several Town Staff members provided key support. The Committee reported that “Our Island has a diverse and sophisticated AC&H (Arts, Culture and History) environment – a haven of creativity.” As an amateur economist I thought WOW!  I wonder how this Arts, Culture and History thing might be impacting our community.

We all know that through the richness of art offerings on the Island, our lives are made fuller.  We enjoy the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra, Hilton Head Choral Society, the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina, Main Street Youth Theatre, Art League of Hilton Head, Island School Council for the Arts, Coastal Discovery Museum, Gullah Museum of Hilton Head Island, Mitchelville Preservation Project and all of the 18 local art galleries, and I haven’t even scratched the surface. There are actually at least 79 organizations identified in the Committee’s report that have local arts, culture or history related offerings. 

From an economic impact standpoint, the report took a look at the “current state” of the entertainment on Hilton Head, and since I know that many of you will not run out and read the entire report, I have pulled out some key performance indicators.

The Current State

  • Over $21 million in total annual expenditures
  • $10.1 million of the $21 million is spent by audiences in activities associated with attending the events, excluding the tickets.
  • 605 full time jobs are created: 296 in Arts and Culture, 253 from audience activities (hotels, restaurants, etc.)
  • $888,472 in local government annual revenue generated
  • $955,673 in state government annual revenue generated
  • Studies show that cultural tourists spend more and stay longer than recreational tourists.

Friends, these are big numbers and they made a definite difference to our local economy. Think about the multiple benefits of 605 jobs as these individuals buy homes, buy groceries, go out for dinner and generally live their lives. And here I am just speaking to direct dollars spent.  Consider the quality of life benefits that accrue to our Island, and how the availability of arts, culture and history enhance property values.  When cultural tourists come and see what we have, there is a higher probability that when the time comes they may return and become permanent residents and as such the multiplier effect repeats itself.

The Final Report issued by the Arts and Cultural Strategic Planning Committee speaks in glowing terms about what we have and what has been accomplished, but it also warns that like much of the Hilton Head Island infrastructure, we are at critical crossroads. The Committee recommends that the Town should support Hilton Head Island as an arts, culture and history destination. That there is a need for a Town funded Hilton Head Island Culture & Arts Network (HHICAN), and that we should review issues associated with venues looking at both existing facilities and possible new ones.

Of course, all of it takes money, time and commitment coupled with incredible good judgment. Let’s take the challenge and keep Hilton Head Island a place where people come both for recreation and Arts, Culture and History.

Elihu Spencer is a local amateur economist with a long business history in global finance.  His life work has been centered on understanding credit cycles and their impact on local economies. The information contained in this article has been obtained from sources considered reliable but the accuracy cannot be guaranteed.