Adding Up New Orleans’ Cultural Economy

The idea of New Orleans culture is central to the identity and experience of this city, though tallying what makes up that culture and measuring its precise impact on residents’ lives is open to interpretation. City Hall, however, has recently made its own stab at assessing just how much New Orleans culture is worth in dollars and in jobs.

The data comes from an annual report by Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s office called the “New Orleans Cultural Economy Snapshot.” For starters, this year’s report concluded that the city’s “cultural sector” was responsible for some 32,400 jobs, or close to 14 percent of the city’s total workforce. That is 2,000 more jobs than were reported for the sector in 2011 and the analysis notes that this was one of the few industries in the city to see employment growth between ’11 and ’12.

“The cultural economy continues to be a significant economic engine here in the city,” Landrieu said. “Our cultural economy employs a major portion of our workforce, fuels tourism and shapes the day-to-day lives of people who call New Orleans home.”

The mayor said the city “benefits greatly” from the many people working in the cultural sector. But what accounts for all of these jobs, and their estimated $1.1 billion in wages, last year? The city cast a wide net when considering the range of “cultural businesses” to count. These include everything from restaurants and art galleries to graphic design firms, architecture firms and even specialty plasterers carrying on one of the city’s traditional building crafts. Most are small businesses, the city reports, and many are located along neighborhood commercial corridors, such as Magazine Street or Harrison Avenue.

Some parts of the sector represent relatively new niches for New Orleans, like film production, which has been burgeoned since the creation of state tax incentives. In 2012, the city saw 61 feature film and TV projects with budgets over $300,000 each, and together they accounted for $670 million in local spending. Other sectors of the cultural economy spring from more familiar New Orleans territory. For instance, the city counted 110 live music venues across town, which hosted 30,000 gigs in ’12.

Scott Hutcheson, the mayor’s adviser on the cultural economy, said in a statement that with the report “we’re able to use sound data to show the incredible value of our cultural economy.”