Arts focus locally as tourism spending rises in Wisconsin

May 7, 2019

Arts are an important investment as tourism spending grows, said George Tzougros, a ranking member of the Governor’s Council on Tourism.

Tzougros, who also is executive director of the Wisconsin Arts Board, spoke at an annual Tourism Lunch hosted by Beaver Dam Chamber of Commerce and Beaver Dam Rotary Monday.

He praised Beaver Dam Area Community Theatre and Dodge County Center for the Arts as well as local media coverage of the arts.

Tzougros said that arts are important economically, including to tourism, but it’s key to keep in mind their greater importance in society. The Wisconsin Arts Board provides grant funding, and he said organizations have learned to speak about how their work will have a economic impact as well as they seek funding.

“When we’re talking about economics, the first thing we have to say is that we understand that the arts are important for what they do for the hearts, the spirits and the minds of the people of Wisconsin,” he said. “If we jump right into the economics, people say, ‘All they care about is the money.’ The money is really nice, but it isn’t the fundamental thing, because if you’ve ever been to a school and watched a kid be transformed by the arts or in an audience and had that moment when a play took you to a place you never expected to go, you know there’s value well beyond the dollars that are being transacted for the tickets.

“For us, that’s where we live. We want to make sure the arts are of value to everyone.”

Tzougros said the arts are an investment, especially in schools. He said that in Minnesota, the per capita funding for the state arts agency is $7. In Wisconsin, he said, it’s 13 cents. He said this will have a serious impact on where budding artists choose to live and work.

The tourism lunch comes as the state announced that the Wisconsin tourism industry generated $21.6 billion in 2018. Visitor spending grew 5% to $13.3 billion. The state had 112 million visitors in 2018, 2 million more than in 2017.

Kristina LeVan, a Department of Tourism spokeswoman, told the Associated Press that several large events drew visitors to Wisconsin last year, including the Brewers’ first playoff games in seven years and Harley-Davidson’s days-long 115th anniversary celebration in Milwaukee in late August and early September.

Direct visitor spending rose from $80.7 million to $82.8 million in Dodge County from 2017 to 2018, according to data from the Wisconsin Department of Tourism. The tourism industry employed 1,527 people in Dodge County in 2018.

The state report found that tourism generated $1.6 billion in state and local tax revenue and $1.2 billion in federal tax revenue. Tzougros said tourism brought a 7-to-1 return on taxpayer investment, and that each Wisconsin household would pay an extra $680 a year to maintain existing services without tourism.

Meanwhile, he said, arts continue to be a part of everyone’s daily life, whether it’s seeing the latest “Avengers” movie, made by hundreds of people, or eating with a fork, which someone had to design.

“This is not an Oliver Twist, ‘Please sir, may we have more,’” he said. “It is an investment in your kids, your communities and your arts organizations that pave that way.”

The lunch also honored local workers and volunteers. Emmett Anderson of AmericInn and Kay Voelker and Kraig Kasten of the Dodge County Center for the Arts received awards.