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A new economic impact study conducted by the Institute for Public Administration (IPA) for The Freeman Stage in Sussex County finds good news for both the county and the state.
Located near Fenwick Island, Delaware, The Freeman Stage has offered a performance schedule encompassing genres of dance, live music, theatre, and children's programming since its opening in 2008. Its mission as a program of the Joshua M. Freeman Foundation has been "to partner to present memorable performances and provide inspired arts education for all while creating opportunities to elevate the human spirit." However, it wasn't until they approached IPA at the Biden School that they were able to fully measure their impact.
"We knew that we were making an economic impact in the region and had been tracking attendance and had some metrics based on tourism spending as well as arts spending. We wanted the public to know the multiplier of their investment in the arts and the impact that patron dollars had in our regional economy," said The Freeman Stage Executive Director Patti Grimes.
"Having the Institute for Public Administration partner with us to manage and create the study provides an objective approach with sound methodology and credible results," Grimes continued. "We will be publishing the findings of the report and will utilize this study in our fundraising initiatives. We will be meeting with local, county, and state officials to advocate for the arts. "
The Freeman Stage's staff provided Troy Mix, IPA policy scientist and associate director, with an expansive collection of data related to attendance at the venue and expenditures necessary to deliver The Freeman Stage's programming.
To measure The Freeman Stage's full local economic impacts, Mix and IPA Public Administration Fellow Ellen Schenk (BA Math and Economics and Public Policy '20, 4+1 MA) analyzed 11 years of the nonprofit's budget, with a focus on detailing how spending by The Freeman Stage ripples through Sussex County. Additionally, the IPA team conducted a survey of attendees to get a sense of how much money they spend locally as part of trips to The Freeman Stage. Using these inputs, they were able to estimate the direct and indirect economic impacts the stage had on Sussex County.
The results of the economic impact analysis of The Freeman Stage found that the venue now supports more than $9 million in annual spending across the greater Sussex County economy. In addition, the study showed that since the beginning of its programming in 2008, economic contributions and impacts resulting from The Freeman Stage have grown steadily from roughly $2 million in sales in 2008 to over $9 million in 2018. Cumulatively, the economic contributions and impacts during this 11-year period totaled nearly $58 million.
"While our role in this work was all about providing a neutral, third-party look at regional impacts, it was personally rewarding to work with an organization where the economic impact is only a small part of the picture," said Mix. "In the case of The Freeman Stage, there are huge educational and cultural impacts, with local children and adults able to experience artistic performances they otherwise wouldn't have had access to."
To help in understanding The Freeman Stage's spillover impacts on southern Delaware's arts and culture scene, IPA Senior Fellow Bill McGowan facilitated a focus group with regional artists and cultural organizations to assess the impact of The Freeman Stage's programming on their personal livelihoods or their organization's missions.
Schenk's role focused primarily on assessing the cultural vitality impacts of the venue by painting a picture of the role it played in providing Sussex County residents in particular with access to the arts. To aide her research, Schenk collected and analyzed data to track the level of arts activity in the county since the opening of The Freeman Stage.
"This was my first time working on an economic impact study, but because of my background I was able to utilize my quantitative skill set," said Schenk. "A lot of similar studies aren't always the most accurate and their methodologies aren't always the greatest, so that's something we worked on together to ensure that our numbers were correct."
In total, patrons participating in IPA's online survey overwhelmingly agreed that The Freeman Stage provides arts and cultural entertainment that would be missing otherwise, and that the performances create opportunities for positive social interactions in the community. Additionally, 90 percent of the nearly 2,200 survey respondents strongly agreed that the venue increased local awareness and participation in the arts.
"As a student working with IPA, this was my first time being able to contribute to the writing process of an actual report, which is definitely a skill that I can use in both my educational and professional careers going forward," said Schenk of the project. "Doing this impact study was a big learning experience which helped me continually improve. My advice to students getting involved in a professional project like this is to not be afraid to ask questions or make mistakes, especially if you can learn from them."
The research team discovered that not only did the stage create opportunities for regional artists, but it also provided a significant educational and quality of life asset for area residents of all ages and backgrounds.
"Painting an evidence-based picture of the economic and cultural impact The Freeman Stage has on Delaware and its residents was gratifying, and it's also the type of project IPA would like to make contributions to in the future," said Mix.
To read the full report, visit http://udspace.udel.edu/bitstream/handle/19716/24322/ impact-analysis-freeman-stage-2019.pdf
About the Institute for Public Administration
A research center in the Biden School of Public Policy & Administration, the Institute for Public Administration (IPA) addresses the policy, planning, and management needs of its partners through the integration of applied research, professional development and the education of tomorrow's leaders.
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