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Updated: October 16, 2023

Arts and culture ring the register in Waterville, and the boom is poised to grow

building facade with glass windows File photo / Jim Neuger The Paul J. Schupf Arts Center opened last December as a home to Waterville's visual and performing arts, arts education and film.

Waterville’s arts and cultural nonprofits generated $13.5 million in economic activity last year — more than double the amount in 2015 — according to a study by a Washington, D.C., advocacy group, Americans for the Arts.

The economic activity during 2022 consisted of $9.7 million in spending by nonprofit arts and cultural organizations and $3.9 million in event-related spending by audiences. 

The spending supported 174 jobs and generated $2.4 million in local, state and federal government revenue, according to the Arts & Economic Prosperity 6 study.

When the study was last conducted, it found the city's arts and cultural nonprofits generated $6.3 million in economic activity during 2015.

The study demonstrates the impact of the arts as an economic driver in downtown Waterville’s revitalization efforts, said Shannon Haines, president and CEO of Waterville Creates, an arts nonprofit. It recently partnered with Colby College to create the Paul J. Schupf Arts Center as a home for Waterville's visual and performing arts, arts education and film.

person smiling
Courtesy / Waterville Creates
Shannon Haines

“We have always known that arts and cultural activities not only enrich and enliven our community but also generate significant economic activity,” said Haines. “When the film festival is happening or there is a sold-out show at the Opera House, the restaurants are packed, hotel rooms are filled and Main Street is alive.”

Key figures from the study include:

  • The typical attendee spends $37.62 per person per event, not including the cost of admission, for categories such as food and drink, retail shopping, overnight lodging and transportation.
  • 42.7% of arts and culture attendees in Waterville were from outside Kennebec County. They spent an average of $53.60.
  • 88% of respondents agreed that the activity or venue they were attending was “a source of neighborhood pride for the community.”
  • 87% said they would “feel a sense of loss if that activity or venue was no longer available.”

“As Waterville continues to make significant investments in arts and culture, this data is crucial to us in demonstrating to our community and our funders the remarkable return on those investments,” said Haines.

“Since opening the doors of our home at the Paul J. Schupf Art Center in December 2022, we have welcomed more than 80,000 visitors, which — based on this data — represents over $3 million in related spending by our patrons.”

As Americans for the Arts’ research partner for the city of Waterville, Waterville Creates was responsible for local implementation and data collection. Waterville Creates’ local partners in AEP6 data collection included the Colby College Museum of Art, Colby Arts Office, Children’s Discovery Museum and the Waterville Public Library.

Nationally, the Arts & Economic Prosperity 6 study revealed the American nonprofit arts and culture sector is a $151.7 billion industry, one that supports 2.6 million jobs and generates $29.1 billion in government revenue.

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