It is no secret that tourism is a major revenue generator state and countywide. Locally speaking, the general assumption tends to be that the tourists who visit -- and the dollars they spend -- come for one thing: the fruit of our vines. Certainly there are other appealing aspects of Sonoma County as a destination, but in terms of our identity as a region, this is Wine Country first and foremost. This is no accident. Our brand is the product of a great deal of vision, effort, and investment on the part of the wine industry, in conjunction with the Sonoma County Tourism Bureau (SCTB).
Of course, tourists need a hot meal and a place to lay their heads at night, which is why the local hospitality industry has grown to figure so prominently in the local economy. According to recent reports from SCTB, more than 7 million visitors choose Sonoma County each year, spending $1.25 billion and generating $79.6 million in tax revenues. While it might be assumed that the majority of that spending goes for room and board, in 2011 visitors spent less on accommodations, 17 percent, than they did on arts, entertainment, and recreation, 19 percent.
Statewide, arts, entertainment and rercreation are major generators of tourist spending revenue, with annual income growing from $7.8 billion in 1992 to $14.1 billion in 2010. Much of this spending takes place in large urban centers, but local figures are nothing to sneeze at, with tourist spending in the same category growing from $315 million to $605 million in the North Coast region during the same period. According to the latest numbers for Sonoma County, tourism revenue from arts, entertainment, and recreation accounts for an impressive $247 million, 19.7 percent of local totals.
If food and beverage is our primary economic driver, then the arts are a fiscally convenient cottage industry. Despite the numbers, the arts have remained a relatively fringe element of the local identity, at least from the budgetary perspective. Creative culture crops up all over Sonoma County -- wildcrafted, as it were, by artists themselves, more than 130 nonprofit arts organizations and for-profit art businesses, and a small but loyal philanthropic community -- generating substantial revenues for the county as a whole without any centralized funding, branding effort or media campaign.
Compare the state of the arts in Sonoma County, then, with that in other California communities that have recognized what they stand to gain and are willing to invest in their local creative culture. Sacramento County has long supported the arts through a dedicated public agency, the Metropolitan Arts Commission. Staffed by no fewer than eleven appointed commissioners, the SMAC works with city and county funds to promote the arts through direct support to artists and arts organizations, proactive marketing, education, and outreach campaigns, and the facilitation of strategic partnerships.
In 2009, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson launched the regional “For Arts’ Sake” initiative to expand the reach of local arts and arts education programs and to build the brand of Sacramento as a cultural arts destination. “For Sacramento to become a thriving, world-class destination,” it is stated in the For Arts’ Sake 2010-2011 Annual Report, "it must also be a city of big ideas and the arts are vital to that goal.” Such statements are not uncommon in the realm of politics, of course, but Mr. Johnson’s is backed by concrete goals: to increase tourism and media revenues related to the arts by 20 percent, to establish a sustainable public funding mechanism that generates $15 million to $20 million per year, to increase use of vacant spaces for the arts by 25 percent, and to increase private-sector giving to the arts by 10 to 20 percent, among other targets, by 2014.