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Fun Money

Locals, tourists invest in good times here.



Working for the weekend makes it easy to spend that hard-earned dollar, and that money stacks up here during Memphis in May, at arts events, and from all those tourists walking on Beale.

Three organizations measured those stacks of cash recently, and their findings show Memphis is still a leisure-time powerhouse.

Memphis in May, for example, said last week that, from open to close, the festival dropped about $111.9 million on the Memphis economy. That was about 22 percent more money than the 2016 festival, which produced about $88 million in economic impact.

"It is widely recognized that the Memphis in May International Festival plays an important part in the culture of our city, but this study is a reminder of the significant positive economic impact it has on the hospitality and tourism industries, and on the tax coffers of Memphis and the surrounding areas," said Kristen Wright, 2018 Memphis in May board chair and senior vice president and general counsel of AutoZone.

Beale Street Music Festival was the biggest money-maker this year. After its nearly 89,000 visitors arrived, partied, and left, the city was about $55.7 million richer, according to the study by Younger Associates.

  • Memphis in May International Festival
  • Beale Street Music Festival

The World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest came in second, bringing in just under 64,000 people who made a $37.7 million economic impact here. 901 Fest and the Great American River Run followed.

For 12 months straddling 2015 and 2016, more than $197 million were spent on the arts in Shelby County. This figure is a combination of the money audiences spent ($79.1 million) going to shows like the theater or art openings and the money ($118.1 million) arts organizations spent on programs.

The figures were announced here last week and were part of the national Arts and Economic Prosperity V (AEP5) study by Americans for the Arts. In Tennessee, the study was overseen by the Tennessee Arts Commission. For West Tennessee, it was managed by ArtsMemphis.

"This is a great example of what we mean when we talk about powering authentic assets in our community," Elizabeth Rouse, ArtsMemphis president and CEO, said in a statement. "The arts really are an authentic asset — not only for our quality of life, but for our economy."

In Tennessee, the arts are a $1.2 billion industry, according to the study. That industry supported 38,482 jobs in that 2015 through 2016 time frame and sent $135 million to state and local coffers.

In Shelby County, the arts created 6,138 jobs from groups as varied as the Beethoven Club to Beale Street Caravan. Together, they put in $22.4 million to state and local tax revenues.

As for tourism, Shelby County was part of another record-breaking year for Tennessee. Tourism dollars topped $19.6 billion in Tennessee last year, according to new numbers from the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development.

Shelby County ranked second in the state, drawing more than $3 billion. (Think of that next time you're hatin' on Elvis or "Walking in Memphis.") Davidson County was first with nearly $6 billion tourist dollars. Knoxville's and Chattanooga's home counties ranked right after Memphis.


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