Data Shows Creative Economy Benefits City Businesses

Report: AHA! A Win-Win for Arts, Economy in New Bedford
By Joe Cohen Standard-Times Staff Writer

NEW BEDFORD — As AHA! closes in on its 10th anniversary and 116th AHA! night event, the organization has released a UMass Dartmouth evaluation of its impact, indicating that directly and indirectly it pumps more than a half-million dollars annually into the local economy.
Although the numbers reflect both direct and indirect financial results, the organization’s director said the intangible results of the arts and culture nights are just as valuable as the dollars and cents.
Lee Heald, AHA! director, said “AHA! is actually a great contributor and great value to the city.” On the one hand, Ms. Heald said, AHA! is about economic development and it wants to be evaluated in economic terms, but on the other hand, it is about more than money. “We are a destination, we have our own signature, world-class institutions and artists. The total value is not just in the numbers, it is in the network of the AHA! partners. We have a team.”
She said AHA!’s success is reflected in the “way people come together” and it should be measured by such things as quality of life and the sense of satisfaction in the community and perception of the community. Ms. Heald said when it comes to the city being a “brand,” the little money spent on AHA! has gone a long way to create positive perceptions. That, Ms. Heald said, reflects the “huge values of AHA!”
Matthew A. Morrissey, executive director of the New Bedford Economic Development Council, said: “AHA! and its partners have helped change the image of the city in a positive way. AHA! focuses attention on the larger creative economy, one of the city’s important assets we are building for the future.”
Kathy M. Dehner, city councilor and AHA! steering committee member, said AHA! has been a good investment. “I am pleased how downtown has changed for the better. I believe AHA! has helped inject new life into the downtown, the arts and economy.”
AHA! — an acronym for art, history and architecture — began in July 1999 with 14 partners, including restaurants, galleries, museums, shops and other businesses, as well as the city. Ms. Heald said now there are 52 partners. AHA! nights are staged on the second Thursdays of the month from 5 to 9 p.m. On Feb. 12, the theme will be “Lincoln 200,” honoring Abraham Lincoln.
AHA! has benefited from annual grants from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. MCC has given AHA! $40,000 in 2005, $50,000 in 2006, and $60,000 in 2007 and 2008. In addition, the city funded AHA! annually with $30,000 until the current fiscal year, when it was cut to $15,000. AHA! also has received a three-year $20,000 grant from the Island Foundation.
AHA! commissioned Economic Impact Analysis and Program Evaluation 2007-08 from UMass Dartmouth’s Center for Policy Analysis. Chief architect of the report was David Borges, assistant director of the center. He summarized the report’s findings as including that the economic impact from AHA! rises every year, in part because of more partners and more people coming downtown.
Among the report’s findings, released Monday:
* Economic impact in 2007 was $527,765 and 6.7 jobs, of which $163,555 was direct economic impact along with 4.9 jobs. The remaining impact was indirect and induced, meaning spin-off benefits.
* Economic impact from 2000 to 2007 has increased by 96.8 percent, largely because of greater attendance at events, more AHA! partners, increase in in-kind contributions by partners and improvements in reporting.
* Surveys of area residents indicate AHA! has improved positive perceptions of the city, and with visitors, too.
Ms. Heald said the bottom line for AHA! is “People are opening (new businesses) all the time, condos are being sold (downtown), and there is more creative cultural mass. The money invested has been returned many-fold.” Further, nine communities in Massachusetts have replicated the AHA! concept, validating its success. “It is a great investment; it has paid off over time,” Ms. Heald said.
Contact Joe Cohen at
February 03, 2009
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