El Paso’s cultural treasures bring treasure trove of economic activity.

Collectively, arts and cultural organizations in El Paso, Texas, employ more people than one of the city’s largest private employers. A study found that in 2007, the arts and culture sector in El Paso accounted for more than 2,500 jobs—a figure that’s almost certainly increased since the study was done. By contrast, El Paso’s Las Palmas & Del Sol Regional Healthcare System employs more than 2,300 people.

As if that weren’t enough, cultural arts organizations and events in El Paso pull in more than 325,000 out-of-towners each year. Overall, about 17 percent of El Paso arts patrons aren’t from the area, and those visitors spend nearly double what locals spend at local events.

The arts and culture sector created $91.5 million in economic activity in 2007 and generated nearly $10 million in local and state tax revenue.

Simply put, arts and cultural venues, museums and events are economic and quality-of-life treasures in the state’s sixth-largest city, home to more than 600,000 residents.

View El Paso’s case study. Or see the full “Art of Economic Development” economic report.

Among those treasures are:

  • The Plaza Theatre Performing Arts Center, which underwent a $38 million renovation in 2004 that was led by the City of El Paso and the nonprofit El Paso Community Foundation. The theatre opened in 1930 and had been set for demolition in the mid-1980s.
  • The city-operated El Paso Museum of History, which relocated in 2007 to a new two-story building, a move made possibly by $6.5 million in voter-approved funds.
  • The summertime Music Under the Stars World Music Festival series, the largest free outdoor music fest in the Southwest. The festival, held at the federally run Chamizal National Memorial, draws more than 120,000 attendees annually.

Assets like the Plaza Theatre and the Museum of History have helped rejuvenate downtown El Paso. Both are situated in a four-block area of downtown that has evolved into a multifaceted cultural hub.

With a city-authored master plan as a guide, new residential and commercial developments have popped up or are being planned around the arts and cultural jewels downtown—an area that had suffered at the hands of neglect and suburban growth.

The theatre renovation and the clustering of museums in the city’s core coincided with approval of the downtown master plan in 2006 and establishment of the downtown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone in 2007. Property values in the zone rose by more than 50 percent in the first year after the zone was set up.

Improving the competitiveness of downtown El Paso is one of the pages in the city’s game plan for arts and culture. Other keys include attracting even more tourists to the city’s performing arts venues and expanding arts-oriented youth education programs—such as Creative Kids, a nonprofit community-based arts education group that serves more than 425 underserved, at-risk and underprivileged youth each year.

So, what has helped the arts and culture blossom as an economic fixture in El Paso? The answers include:

  • Understanding that arts and culture are underpinnings of El Paso’s quality of life and long-term economic success.
  • Figuring out how the arts fit into the city’s overall economic development picture.
  • Acknowledging that the arts attract and retain higher-income residents who contribute to the region’s tax base.
  • Preserving and celebrating the community’s historic assets.

Special thanks to:

We would also like to thank:

  • Kate Bonansinga, Stanlee & Gerald Rubin Center for the Visual Arts
  • Julia Bussinger, El Paso Museum of History
  • Victor Casas, Artist
  • Patricia Dalbin, Museums and Cultural Affairs Department, City of El Paso
  • Richard Dayoub, The Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce
  • Veronica Excobar, El Paso County Commissioner
  • Ivonne Jimenez, El Paso Public Library
  • Marisol Lopez, Museums and Cultural Affairs Department, City of El Paso
  • Nestor Valencia, Artist