Friday, April 13, 2007

I won't be going to see any shows this weekend as I'll be out of town doing my other freelance writing job. My friend/co-worker/partner and I are heading out to meet with a committee to launch the textbook that we're co-writing. After that we'll be headed off for a research trip here.

Rough life, eh? Writing really can be a good life.

But getting back to theater...funding continues to be an issue for art and I do wonder how it is possible for arts organizations to get their message across. Those of us who are involved in the arts understand how transformational it can be and how it is an essential part of a healthy society.

When it comes to government funding, it really is the difference between spending money on treating illness or spending money on wellness. Many of our human and emergency services are all about treating illness. Yes, it is important. However, how much less might we have to spend on treating illnesses if we took the longer term approach and focused on the wellness of our society so that there was less illness?

At the NEA Institute, Ben Cameron spent a lot of time talking about arts funding and what we need to communicate about the importance of art. He gave us three talking points about why theater is essential:

1. Theaters are good for the economic health of the community. For every $1 spent on theater, audience members spend $5 to $7 more in the community. There is an economic value beyond that as theaters purchase fabric, toner, printers, paint, etc. Major vibrant communities are characterized by a creative culture.

2. Theaters are sources of education. Shirley Bryce Heath at Stanford has done extensive research on the impact of arts on kids. Arts are essential to educational success. Her "Champions of Change" report should be required reading for anyone involved in the arts or who has say over the funding of the arts.

3. Theaters make communities a healthier place. There was one study that showed how high school students who have been in a single play are 42 percent less likely to support racist behavior than those who have not. Theater changes them.

We need to be talking about these things. We need to be talking about why the arts are important--not just to legislators, but to our friends and our neighbors. For ultimately, people must be willing to pay taxes if there is going to be governmental support of the arts.

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