Virginia Arts Festival economic impact survey brings positive results

The Virginia Arts Festival got welcoming news from a recent economic impact study it commissioned.

The festival hired a Philadelphia firm, Tourism Economics, to look at 2012 attendance figures and the economic impact locals and out-of-town visitors had on the region and the state. Tourism Economics in turn hired a Hampton Roads firm, Continental Research, which interviewed more than 700 festival-goers.

The 2012 festival took place April 16-June 29 in venues from Virginia Beach to Williamsburg. Here are some of the highlights:

• 58,000 people attended festival performances and events. Of that number, almost 27 percent were out-of-town visitors. That figure is twice the number of people who came from out of town in the early years of the festival.

• The 58,000 attendees spent $3.6 million on lodging, food, shopping and other categories.

• More than 2,300 artists who participated in the festival also spent another $200,000 in the region.

• The festival's $7.1 million budget had the most direct impact on the local economy by employing area performers and local production and audio-visual companies, renting facilities, paying staff and buying advertising in local media.

• In all, the festival budget and money spent by attendees and artists amounted to $10.9 million for the local economy.

• The total statewide economic impact amounted to $17.3 million, which includes $6.9 million in labor income, supporting 231 jobs.

• These expenditures directly or indirectly generated more than $1.1 million in local and state taxes, including almost $490,000 in sales and lodging tax revenue.

"I think it's the visibility of the festival and the fact that we've increased the number of productions that are unique to this area," says Festival Director Robert Cross in explaining the increased visitation. "It's always a balancing act of presenting programs that have broad appeal with other things that keep it fresh."

Since the beginning, the festival has presented the Virginia International Tattoo, an evening of military bands, bagpipers, drill teams and choruses from around the world choreographed to lighting and music. That event continues to draw record crowds, and the festival has added performances to accommodate the increased attendance.

Those unique events include performances of the Bernstein Mass and Mahler Eighth Symphony, visits by the Birmingham Royal Ballet, and cutting-edge performers such as ukulele player Jake Shimabukuro and European cabaret singer Meow Meow.

And more good news: Based on the report, the Virginia Tourism Corporation approved a $50,000 grant for tourism marketing for the festival.

Daniel Nelson Irish tour

Daniel Nelson is bringing a troupe of Irish dancers and musicians to the Kimball Theatre later this month.

Performances of "An Irish Dancing Christmas!" will take place at 7 p.m. Friday-Sunday Nov. 23-25 at the Merchants Square venue. Tickets are now on sale.

For several years, Nelson has taught Irish dancing at his studio in York County. He was named Southern Champion in regional Irish dance competitions in 2006 and 2008 and has twice competed in World Championships in Ireland. Locally, he's participated in the Virginia International Tattoo presented by the Virginia Arts Festival.

This will be his first attempt to produce an Irish dancing show. Nelson is using dancers and musicians from the Hampton Roads area and is also bringing in performers from Richmond and Washington, D.C. The various dance companies involved include Rhythm Of Ireland, Margie Williams School of Dance, Heart Of Ireland, and Hurley School of Irish Dancing.

The musicians include Keltish, a five-piece band, with Chelle Fulk on strings, Catherine Hauke on percussion and Michael Kazalski on brass.

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