Alice V. Koehler, Marcanthony Lozano, Shelly Meadows, Andrea Merritt, Tami Pomales, and Terri Schneider

Art connects. Art communicates. Art expresses. Art fulfills.
Art improves health, gives hope, and adds to academic success.
Art changes lives, and it can change cities, too.

Lakeland is a creative city, an artful city. Around every turn, businesses operate with an appreciation for innovation and imagination: architects, graphic designers, painters, builders. Lakelanders enjoy the art of good food at unique restaurants and craft beer from local breweries. We appreciate the art of nature and invest in our parks. We encourage creativity and boast several excellent arts schools. Lakeland’s “artful energy,” as its downtown slogan suggests, is alive and well.
This artful energy isn’t just a statement about Lakeland today, though. The arts community plays a dynamic and integral role in developing our future as a city, and the nonprofit arts communitywill be key to growing Lakeland to its next iteration. We need to invest now.
The arts improve academic performance. Students who participate in the arts are more likely to have higher SAT scores and higher GPAs than those who don’t. Research from the University of Pennsylvania proves that “the arts have social impact. High concentration of the arts in a city leads to higher civic engagement, more social cohesion, higher child welfare, and lower poverty rates. The arts improve healthcare. Nearly one-half of the nation’s healthcare institutions provide arts programming for patients, families, and even staff. Seventy-eight percent deliver these programs because of their healing benefits to patients — shorter hospital stays, better pain management, and less medication. The arts are fundamental to our humanity.
They ennoble and inspire us — fostering creativity, goodness, and beauty. The arts help us express our values, build bridges between cultures, and bring us together regardless of ethnicity, religion, or age. When times are tough, art is salve for the ache” (, 10 Reasons to Support the Arts). Yes, the arts play a significant role in our collective humanity and in improving social conditions. We know the arts add intrinsic value to a community. We feel their value in our everyday existence. Far beyond that, however, the arts also promote prosperity, drive economic activity, and are good for business.
But our city’s arts community is facing a significant funding crisis. In the past, the City of Lakeland was able to significantly financially support the arts through income-generating activities like the Cultural Trust Fund and the Red Light Camera Reinforcement Program. Due in part, however, to the reality of shifting budget priorities, these funds are no longer available.

“Actually seeing the numbers of only seven organizations brings the importance of the arts and impact into reality. Those of us in the field knew the numbers were significant, and now thanks to the Senior MBA class, we have actual statistics to present. With over 16 arts organizations in Lakeland, we are looking forward to extending this study to include all of them.”

In 2012, then-Mayor Gow Fields created the Mayor’s Council on the Arts to provide a platform for “public participation in decisions involving the arts community (City of Lakeland Resolution No. 12-020).” In September 2014, the council engaged a group of MBA students from Florida Southern College’s Barney Barnett School of Business and Free Enterprise (a team of which I was a part) to do something that hadn’t been done before in our city: determine the economic impact of the nonprofit arts community in Lakeland.
The team began by determining the major players. Based on attendance numbers and sizes of budgets, the study focused on these seven organizations: Polk Museum of Art, Explorations V Children’s Museum, Florida Dance Theatre, Imperial Symphony Orchestra, Lakeland Community Theatre, Polk Theatre, and Platform Art.
We studied these organizations, how they function, what they do, and how they impact and bolster our community. We analyzed their budgets, IRS 990s, and attendance data. We surveyed the community. We looked at city visioning documents, talked with stakeholders, and went to work crunching numbers. Using the Arts & Economic Prosperity IV Calculator, a tool that was developed by Americans for the Arts and “makes it possible to estimate the economic impact of nonprofit arts and culture organizations or even entire nonprofit arts communities” (
The results are astounding:


That means each $1.00 invested in Lakeland’s nonprofit arts community reaps a $3.38 return!
It’s important to note that these figures are based only on analysis of the seven major nonprofit arts organizations in Lakeland. So, the true economic impact of the nonprofit arts community in Lakeland is likely much greater. The economic impact of the arts — which can include both for-profit and nonprofit businesses — is greater still.
The team concluded that the city and its citizens would encounter a startling and significant economic blow should the city exist without these organizations. Furthermore, from analysis of citizen surveys and Lakeland Vision visioning documents, the team concluded that Lakeland values a city that is culturally diverse and offers an appealing quality of life. Lakeland’s arts organizations are perfectly poised to add to the city’s economic growth and development, and in so doing are the right investment to supporting the city in its social growth and development plan. The nonprofit arts community is key to growing Lakeland from good to great! With the right support, our city’s creative vitality and “artful energy” will continue to thrive.
This economic impact study is the first step of many in embracing and nurturing our arts community. It’s the foundation from which our community will grow. George Bernard Shaw, the poet, playwright, and co-founder of the London School of Economics, once said, “Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine, and at last you create what you will.” Yesterday, we imagined what Lakeland might become. Today, we begin the creation of what will be, and have begun the work of creating it.

The Florida Southern College MBA team wishes to thank those that provided support in pursuing this impact study. The MBA team worked closely with Dr. Larry Ross, the Mayor’s Council on the Arts, and The Polk Arts Alliance. The Polk Arts Alliance is an active advocacy member of Americans for the Arts and represents the County at the Division of Cultural Affairs. For more information on The Polk Arts Alliance, please visit