AUBURN | The economic impacts of the Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival and other local cultural pursuits were music to the ears of area leaders Wednesday morning when the first data from the festival's inaugural year was unveiled.

At the monthly Wednesday Morning Roundtable Eileen McHugh and Ed Sayles, two figures ingrained in Cayuga County's cultural arts scene, said nonprofit arts and culture expenditures brought in nearly $7.5 million in sales for the local economy in 2011 and projected numbers for the first full year of the new festival show an even greater impact.

McHugh, Auburn's Historian and the Executive Director of the Cayuga Museum, reiterated the findings of a 2011 survey of nonprofit arts and culture organizations and audiences conducted by the Americans for the Arts.

The data previously released by the advocacy group showed spending of $3.6 million on museum and theater admissions in the city, which supported 104 full-time equivalent jobs and contributed $299,000 to local governments.

"If we were a factory in town and employed 104 people, others would see our value as an employer," McHugh said. "But because we are several different organizations, most of us small, the community does not always perceive us as an economic generator in town. That's why we wanted to get these figures."

She stressed that the Americans for the Arts study only included organizations within the city limits, leaving the impact of the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse and the musical theater festival, two major contributors to local arts spending, uncounted.

Using similar calculations to that study, Sayles, director of the Playhouse and architect of the budding festival, set the impact of the two ventures at more than double that of the city programs.

Between the Owasco theater's budget and the festival's ticket receipts, he calculated $3.9 million in expenditures in 2011, 142 jobs and $314,255 in local government revenue.

Based on receipts from 2012, the first full year of the festival, Sayles projected $5.5 million in spending, 201 jobs and $445,798 in government revenues.

"Hopefully, starting with this, we can all become advocates for the industry," Sayles said. "Not because it's good, for us, not because it's good for them, but because it's good for the whole community."

The Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival debuted this year with three of the four planned venues. The downtown Schwartz Family Performing Arts Center is tentatively scheduled to begin hosting productions for the 2014 season.

In early 2011, supporters projected annual visitor spending of $30 million and 400 new jobs as 150,000 visitors flood the area for the festival.

Sayles said Wednesday that the early figures show the festival is on track to be a major boon to the local economy once in full swing.

"We're very excited about the awesome response we got in the first year," he said. "It's a great investment for the community's future, and we hope it's the thing that will put Cayuga County on the map for the arts."

The next step, Sayles said, is to concentrate on a targeted advertising campaign to entice visitors from outside the area to visit and spend their dollars.

"In terms of marketing, we need to find ways to get very targeted mailing lists to identify people who are likely to come in for shows," he said. "Give us at least the opportunity to be able to sell ourselves and make the community visible."

Staff writer Nathan Baker can be reached at 282-2238 or nathan.baker@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @CitizenBaker.

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