The arts aren’t just good for us, they’re good for San Jose’s economy

We hear all the time how important the arts are to building a strong community and how they provide real economic benefit to cities that invest in them. Now there are some numbers to back that up.

The newly released Arts & Economic Prosperity 6 study shows that nonprofit arts and culture organizations generated $292 million in economic activity in San Jose in 2022 — the major chunk of $384.5 million generated by arts groups in all of Santa Clara County.

Randy Cohen, vice president of research at Americans for the Arts, talked about the results before nearly 100 arts and community leaders at a luncheon Friday co-hosted by the city’s Office of Cultural Affairs and SV Creates at the San Jose City Hall Rotunda. San Jose, he said, is a bit of an anomaly compared to the rest of the nation, with a stronger comeback in the arts sector since the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down.

“San Jose has always been such a great arts epicenter for the region, and it just grows and grows and grows,” said Cohen, who grew up in Sunnyvale. “It’s truly an international arts destination.”

That $292 million breaks down into two parts: $192 million in activity by audiences and $100 million by the organizations themselves, who employ more than 2,800 people and pay for things like electricity and printing. According to the study, audiences spent an average of $43.88 per person, per event they attend. That figure doesn’t include the price of admission, but rather spending on things like food and drink, shopping, childcare and transportation — and 24% of attendees were from out of the area, so they spent money on lodging, too.

A couple of more interesting statistics on the social impact of the arts: 86.4% of San Jose respondents said the cultural activity or venue they were attending was “a source of neighborhood pride for the community” and 85% agreed they would feel a great sense of loss if an activity or venue went away. Kerry Adams Hapner, San Jose’s director of cultural affairs, said this is very good news for a downtown that recovering from the pandemic.

“It was really remarkable to see the growth and resiliency and how robust this sector is,” said Kerry Adams Hapner, San Jose’s director of cultural affairs. “When you look at our downtown vibrancy, when you compare our number of outdoor special events this year to pre-pandemic, we’re at 97 percent of those numbers. Downtown is back, and the arts play a very big role in that.”

So the next time you hear someone say investing public dollars in the arts isn’t worth it, you can tell them they’re wrong. And we’ve got the receipts to prove it.

STRONG START: Republic Urban Properties President Michael Van Every and his wife, Jennifer Van Every, were smiling and gracious hosts at a donor celebration for a new fund to support the burn center at Valley Medical Center on Oct. 27. They couldn’t have picked a better venue, either, as the 165 guests were among the first to enjoy Copita, the new restaurant and tequila bar on Lincoln Avenue in Willow Glen.

Valley Health Foundation Executive Director Michael Elliott, left, and Republic Urban Properties President Michael Van Every show off a letterman’s jacket Van Every received from the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center burn center staff at a celebration held Oct. 27, 2023, at Copita Willow Glen in San Jose. (Sal Pizarro/Bay Area News Group) 

The Van Everys weren’t the only ones smiling, either, as Valley Health Foundation Executive Director Michael Elliott and Dr. Clifford Scheckter were on hand to celebrate the $187,000 raised so far for the Valley Health Foundation Michael Van Every Burn Fund — and they and the rest of the burn center staff in attendance presented Van Every with a letterman’s jacket. Van Every suffered severe burns in a household accident as a child and decided to launch the fund as a way to give back to the VMC doctors and nurses who saved his life.

VMC’s Regional Burn Center is the only one in the Bay Area verified by the American Burn Association and American College of Surgeons for its quality of care, and is just one of three regional burn centers between Los Angeles and the Oregon border. In 2022, 227 patients were admitted to the burn ICU, and an additional 300 patients received care from burn center staff in the emergency room and pediatrics. The new fund will help support services for burn patients, innovation in medical care and provide mental health and wellness support for doctors, nurses and staff who work in the unit.

POWERFUL VOICE: Viet Thanh Nguyen, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2016 for his novel, “The Sympathizer,” will be at the San Jose City Hall Rotunda on Monday night to discuss his new memoir, “A Man of Two Faces,” which explores both his life growing up as a Vietnamese refugee in San Jose in the 1980s and that of his late mother, Linda Kim Nguyen.

He’ll be in conversation with Cathy Park Hong, author of “Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning” at the 6:30 p.m. event. Admission is free, but space is limited. Reserve a spot at

SPARTAN PRIDE: It’ll be a full-circle moment for Ken Yeager when he delivers this year’s Don Edwards Lecture on Nov. 8 at the San Jose State Student Union Ballroom. Yeager, now executive director of the BAYMEC Community Foundation, was the first openly gay elected official to serve on the San Jose Evergreen Community College District, the San Jose City Council and the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors.

But back in 1982, after running the successful Congressional re-election campaign for Rep. Don Edwards, Yeager was asked to join Edwards’ staff in Washington, D.C. Yeager agreed to be press secretary but — knowing the large anti-gay sentiment sweeping the nation at the time — wanted to make sure Edwards was OK with the fact he was gay. Edwards was, and the rest is history.

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