The Rogue Valley's performing arts industry outpaces one of the region's historically most important economic contributors — logging — and is weathering the recession better than most, recent data show.
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Britt Festivals in Jacksonville, the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater in Medford, Camelot Theatre in Talent and other performing arts venues provide 558 jobs annually for a payroll of $19.6 million, according to the Oregon Employment Department. The average salary for this category, which comprises 33 businesses and includes spectator sports, is $35,168.
Logging and forestry, by comparison, provides 245 jobs in 33 businesses for a payroll of $9.81 million, but the average salary is higher — $40,038.
The performing arts industry in the Rogue Valley has become a well-established main vein of the region's economy, said Ainoura Oussenbec, an economist for Jackson and Josephine counties.
"The whole complex of the Shakespeare Festival and the surrounding industry has been bringing a lot of money from out of the area into the local economy," she said. "The Shakespeare Festival is the anchor, but it's a whole cluster that works together... . They can be catalysts for a local economy."
Oussenbec and Guy Tauer, regional economist for the Oregon Employment Department, say the businesses that flourish beneath the umbrella of the performing arts industry have transformed it into a major economic cog.
"Even though this industry is a fairly small sector, there are a lot of other jobs created through it," said Tauer, who studies Coos, Curry, Jackson and Josephine counties for the state. "The beneficiaries are the restaurants and the hotels."
Recent economic studies completed by the Ashland Chamber of Commerce show that the arts, entertainment and recreation sectors generate about 30 percent of all visitor spending in Ashland, which amounts to more than $22 million annually of the $71 million spent by visitors.
Additional data compiled by OSF show that each of its 390,765 patrons in 2011 spent about $103 around town per day visiting the festival, adding up to more than $40 million — if each only visited for one day.
The company estimates that 85 percent of its visitors live more than 100 miles from Ashland, said OSF Executive Director Paul Nicholson, and spend about three to four days in the area.
Ticket sales over the past five years are strong at most of the valley's big stages, showing the performing arts have weathered the recession, which began in December 2007, better than many other businesses and organizations.
In 2007, OSF posted ticket sales of 404,730, generating more than $15 million in revenue. After posting record sales in 2009, OSF broke the record again in 2010 with 414,783 tickets sold, providing $18.5 million in revenue.
Last year's total of 390,765 ticket sales suffered from a six-week closure of the Angus Bowmer Theatre, but most of the loss in revenue was made up by about $2.6 million in insurance settlements.
At the Britt Festivals, 47,500 tickets were sold in 2007, 56,200 in 2011, said Sara King Cole, marketing director. And, compared to the same time last year, Britt has sold 5,000 more tickets so far this season.
At the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater, 40,012 tickets were sold in 2007 and 40,084 were sold in 2011, said Stephen McCandless, executive director. (See correction, below)
"We weathered the formal years of the recession very well," McCandless said, noting the theater sold more than a million tickets in 2008. "We're actually feeling a bit of a pinch now, though ... trying to get back to where we were five years ago."
About 90 percent of the Craterian's audience lives between Ashland and Grants Pass, said McCandless.
"We hear from the downtown restaurants in particular, all the time, that they get a big surge in business when we have an event," he said.
Outperforming the lot in terms of growth, the Camelot Theatre Company has nearly doubled its ticket sales and budget since 2007, statistics provided by the company show.
With a steady increase during the years between, Camelot sold 16,688 tickets in 2007, and 21,285 in 2011. In the same span, the company also increased its operating budget from $366,596 to $600,938 and opened a brand new theater.
"About 90 percent of our expenses go directly back into the community," said Ted Gibbs, president of Camelot's board. "I think the growth has primarily been the community's recognition of the quality of the productions and performances we have. ... It's been a gradual process year after year, that we've done better and better."
According to the state Employment Department, food and accommodation services in Jackson County provide about 7,402 jobs with an average salary of $15,367, on a $113.75 million payroll. The data show there are 488 restaurants or other dining establishments and 98 hotels, motels, and bed and breakfasts in the area.
"A lot of the hotels and restaurants in Ashland are there directly because of the Shakespeare Festival and surrounding industry," said Tauer.
"It becomes a whole regional thing, which is wonderful," said Oussenbec, "because there are going to be more businesses involved, and more jobs."
Oregon Shakespeare Festival's 2012 budget of about $30 million dwarfs the Britt Festivals' $3.3 million and the Craterian's $1.2 million, but all agree that without one another and several small community theaters, the industry wouldn't be where it is today.
"Everything kind of works with a multiplier effect," said Gibbs. "It's a mutually beneficial relationship."
As OSF has doubled in size over the past 30 years, said Nicholson, so have the opportunities for like-minded organizations and the sectors of the economy that serve those patrons.
"What I do believe is that, as we have gotten stronger as an organization, certainly there have been opportunities for other organizations to become established and flourish from the visitors we attract, which is adding to the tourist culture," said Nicholson. "That has fueled some of the demand for restaurants and hotels."
Combining the 2012 operating budgets of OSF, Britt, the Craterian and Camelot, it is estimated they provide or help support more than 1,000 jobs and bring in more than $2.5 million in federal and state tax revenue to the area, according to an Arts & Economic Prosperity Calculator developed by Americans For the Arts, a leading nonprofit organization for advancing the arts and arts education in the U.S.
"We have a city here that is in a large part built upon the creative industry, and I think that's a pretty fantastic thing," said Nicholson. "There are few cities where the creative industry is such a dominant economic force."
Sam Wheeler is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. He can be reached at 541-499-1470 or email email@example.com.
Note: Figures have been corrected from an earlier version.