Monday, January 18, 2016

Do Knowledge Workers Settle in Cities for the Arts, or Is It a Coincidence?

On Christmas Eve, Richard Florida posted an article on CityLab that draws on an article in the Economic Development Quarterly by Arthur Nelson and others to argue for the importance of the performing arts in drawing so-called knowledge workers to cities:
The study finds substantial evidence that performing arts organizations add to both the growth of the knowledge class and to urban economies broadly. Those with just one type of performing arts center saw a 1.1 percent increase in knowledge-class employment between 2000 and 2010; those with two types of performing arts centers saw a 1.5 percent increase; and those with all three types saw a 2.2 percent increase. 
The result of this influx of new-economy careerists is a whole bunch of money made:
Over this ten-year period, the 118 metros with at lease one performing arts organization generated a whopping $60 billion in annual income and more than half a million additional knowledge-class jobs, or over 12 percent of all knowledge-class jobs created over that time frame.  
I'm looking forward to finding the article (which you can buy for $32 if you want) and taking a look, because on the basis of what Florida tells us, I don't see a very convincing argument here. People come to cities and set up shop for a lot of reasons, and a lot of cities in the US have at least one performing arts center and group. I'd be much more convinced with some surveying of actual knowledge workers, asking them why they moved to their cities.

People with good intentions are always trying to find reasons why the arts matter--they make our children wiser, make us richer and more successful in life and work--but the arguments always sound shrill because the conclusions are overblown relative to the evidence. It seems to be the case here.