Ms. Ulich goes to Washington

A little over a year ago, the Fort Worth arts community – from organizations with national reputations such as the Fort Worth Opera to small community organizations that serve neighborhood children such as Arts 5th Avenue – were singing the blues. The city of Fort Worth was looking to cut its arts budget by as much as 25 percent, and that was following small cuts in several previous years.

Cue the Rocky theme music: The Arts Council commissioned a study which showed, based on 2010 numbers, that the arts generated $84 million in economic activity and supported 3,011 full-time equivalent jobs. The study also showed that 2.7 million people attended arts events in Fort Worth in 2010. More than 600,000 of those people were from outside Tarrant County. Event-related spending by arts and culture audiences totaled $45.3 million, excluding the cost of admissions. The study found that people attending nonprofit arts and culture events opened their wallets to the tune $16.92 per person in event-related expenditures.

“Community arts supporters lobbied extensively – pie charts and figures showing Fort Worth to be among the lowest contributors to the arts were sent around, people wrote letters, made speeches, and even wore T-shirts touting ‘support the arts,’” wrote Darren K. Woods, general director of the Fort Worth Opera. Cue going toe-to-toe with Apollo Creed in the ring: After the Arts Council worked with the city’s Arts Funding Task Force, the city council voted to increase arts funding, going from $600,310 to $1.4 million, the first increase in five years.  

Cue kissing Adrian. Now, just a little over a year after that battle, there’s a sequel, which everyone can agree has to better than Rocky II: The head of the Arts Council visited Washington, D.C., on Nov. 20 to testify on Capitol Hill about arts funding and to share Fort Worth’s story. Jody Ulich, president of the Arts Council, said the takeaway of the Fort Worth story is that arts in the community are a small business, but “a small business that has a profound and strong economic impact on a community. “From employees who live here to local patrons to outsiders who visit our arts events and arts facilities, they spend a very large amount of money, whether it’s staying in hotels or whatever. It’s a very good business for a community. Investment in the arts is an investment in the community because the money spent by an arts organization is spent locally.” Ulich’s testimony was part of a campaign to preserve charitable deductions in the tax code. Losing the deductions could threaten the livelihood of philanthropic organizations nationwide, according to arts supporters. There was nothing about the tax code in Rocky (well maybe in Rocky II), but the Arts Council has even more to celebrate. On Dec. 6, the Arts Council will commemorate its 50th anniversary at its annual Toast of the Town event. The Arts Council was founded in 1963 by Ruth Carter Stevenson.

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Ulrich says that the Andy Warhol-themed event promises to create some art of its own and that, despite the Warhol theme, it won’t be a look back. “We’re looking to the future, to the next 50 years,” she said.

In Market is a column written from the perspective of a plugged-in business journalist about business happenings in and around Tarrant County. Got an idea for In Market? Robert Francis can be reached at