Student analysis proves festival’s economic impact

April 17, 2007

Ithaca’s Light in Winter festival, which melds science with the arts, has been drawing crowds for one extended weekend every January since 2004. People come not only to see performances by Paul Winter Consort, Laurie Anderson, and Pilobolus dance troupe but also to attend an extraordinary lineup of talks and events on campus and in town by Cornell experts and others.

But is the intellectually ambitious, locally planned festival actually spurring the local economy? wondered its founder and artistic director, Barbara Mink, who also is senior lecturer at Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management and a former chair of Tompkins County Legislature

In 2006 she asked CRP professor Susan Christopherson if a graduate student in planning might be interested in measuring the impact of tourist spending during the festival. Jessica Daniels, a second-year M.R.P. student, stepped forward. “I’ve always had an interest in the arts and how artists impact the local economy,” Daniels says.

“Having a real project and knowing my work would make an impact motivated me.” The study became Daniels’ exit project. Christopherson, Mink, and Yasamin Miller, director of Cornell’s Survey Research Institute, helped design the survey, which was conducted during the festival by CRP students and community volunteers under Daniels’ direction, as reported in the spring 2007 AAP News. “We got a great response rate. People were positive, interested,” Daniels says.  

The results, released in April 2007, showed that Light in Winter, indeed, brought visitors, dollars, and vitality to the city. The gross economic impact of the 2007 festival was more than $200,000. Of the 3,000-plus people who attended one event or more, 23 percent came from outside Tompkins County. And out-of-towners from 100 cities and 14 states, as well as throughout New York, patronized local hotels and restaurants.  

“Jessica did a superb job on the festival impact study, which was unusual in that it was planned and carried out in complete coordination with the festival organizers,” Christopherson says. “The results demonstrate that an investment in cultural activities can have positive benefits for a community’s economy. Yearly festivals like Light in Winter that are planned and carried out in the community also have the best chance of attracting return visitors. And Jessica’s efforts show how students can acquire a wide range of professional skills and expertise while working on projects that also serve the community -- a hallmark of our M.R.P. program.”

“We are especially grateful for the excellent analysis by Jess Daniels,” said Mink. “Being able to quantify the festival’s impact on the community is a tangible way for the individuals, businesses, and organizations who help subsidize the costs to see that their investment contributes to the creative economy here.”

By Linda Myers

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