Museums rev up local economy in numerous ways

Published 2:27 pm Thursday, March 15, 2018


Guest columnist

“Curiosity is natural to the soul of man and interesting objects have a powerful influence on our affections.”

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That quote, attributed to the pioneer explorer Daniel Boone, was a prescient insight into modern institutions that educate and engage the public using “interesting objects.”

Those institutions are museums.

The artifacts and stories found in museums spark our interest, drive curiosity, spur innovation and provide important context to help us solve problems that we face today.

These institutions are also important drivers of our local, state and national economies.

The American Alliance for Museums (AAM) recently published “Museums as Economic Engines: A National Report.” This economic impact study clearly shows the economic benefits of museums.

The study, undertaken by the global economic research organization Oxford Economics, says that in addition to having educational merit, “the museum sector is also essential to the national economy—generating  GDP, stimulating jobs, and contributing taxes.”

In 2016, museums contributed $50 billion to the GDP; supported 726,200 jobs, including 372,100 direct employees; and contributed $12 billion in tax revenue, including “$8 billion in federal taxes and $4 billion  in state and local taxes.”

All of this comes from more than 850 million visits made to museums across the United States. This also includes tens of thousands of visits to dozens of Kentucky museums, both large and small.

These visits generate jobs. Kentucky museums employ, both directly and indirectly, 8,902 people. On average, that is about 74 jobs per county, an amazing number.

Moreover, the report says that Kentucky museums provide hundreds of millions of dollars in income and more than $111,000,000 in state and local taxes.

I recently asked Nancy Turner, director of the Winchester-Clark County Tourism Commission, how local museums impact her community. This includes the Bluegrass Heritage Museum, which focuses on the history  of Clark County and the state’s Bluegrass Region.

“The Bluegrass Heritage Museum is a wonderful draw for tourism in Winchester, and definitely contributes to the $93 million dollars in total tourist spending,” Turner said. “Thanks to the museum and other  local heritage tourism attractions we support over 800 jobs in Clark County and save our households $692 in tax money each year.”

Carter Hendricks, mayor of Hopkinsville, also recognizes the benefit of the Museums of Hopkinsville-Christian County.

“Our museum helps to bring visitors and local residents to our downtown area to learn about our community’s rich history and heritage,” Hendricks said. “From their walking tours to exhibits, the local museum  provides a unique opportunity to learn about our region while supporting our local economy.  Additionally, the museum plays an invaluable role instilling pride about those who’ve come before and the tremendous impacts they’ve made on our lives today.”

As Turner and Hendricks relate, museums educate our residents, attract outside visitors and provide a positive economic impact. In order to help these organizations continue their work, Kentuckians need to  invest in their sustainability over the long term.

Fortunately, there is an easy way to make this investment.

Kentuckians can donate to the Kentucky Local History Trust Fund, a tax check-off on state income tax returns, to provide grant funds for museums and local history organizations across the state.

During the last two years, this program has awarded nearly $32,000 to 30 organizations in 26 Kentucky counties.

By donating to the Kentucky Local History Trust Fund, Kentuckians can help the museums that mean so much to our communities and our economy.

As Daniel Boone said, we are influenced by the “interesting objects” that surround us: toys from our childhood, family photographs, a grandparent’s cookbook or a rare gift.

These objects may also pertain to important issues that our nation faces today, like a family member’s citizenship papers or a sobriety chip from drug or alcohol rehabilitation program.

Much in the way that we cherish these items, Kentucky’s museums contain objects, artifacts and archives that are meaningful to our state and local history. They also educate our students and bring visitors  to our communities.

Because these museums help us in so many ways, please make an investment in their work by donating to the Kentucky Local History Trust Fund on your state income tax return.

Stuart W. Sanders is the Kentucky Historical Society’s history advocate. He lives in Danville.