I ask because I think if we looked at arts funding in a broader manner, the public might not only understand it better, but be more willing to get behind it.
While working on a story last December, I spoke with BoarsHead's Artistic Director Kristine Thatcher about how the arts survive during tough economic times. She pointed out that during the Great Depression, some of America's best plays were written and performed. "It is balm for the soul. It brings comfort and hope. You get together live and in person and share an experience. That's why theater exists--to examine who we are and who we want to be. We do that by looking at all of our stories."
Art has far more to contribute to an economic recovery than just escapism and the stimulation of creative thought (though both of those elements are quite important). Art can play a role in such areas as infrastructure, housing, and urban redevelopment--particularly the latter. That's not even touching upon the crucial role that arts play in education--a role that has been bolstered by study after study. (One of these days, I'll compile links to all the different stories and studies about how art in education improves literacy, reduces recidivism, creates more responsible citizens, and reduces racism.)
Leslie Donaldson, executive director of the Greater Lansing Arts Council, talked in an interview last year about how businesses are starting to realize the value of artists and the need for them in their work. She said:
In fact, a lot of reports have come out fairly recently on the importance of having an arts degree or a master of fine arts degree when you are in ithe business field. A lot of employers actually seek people who have arts backgrorusnds because when they are put in difficult situaions they want people who can be creative in approaching whatever issues might be in front of them.Infrastructure
Not only is it important for our soul in difficult times; it is important as a way to learn how to problem solve and be creative in our every day life.
About a month ago, Richard Florida wrote an excellent article about the type of infrastructure that we need to be stimulating if we're going to survive. Let me share an excerpt (bold is mine) while encouraging you to go read the whole thing:
However, the facts are that the locus of economic growth has shifted dramatically and a stimulus that focuses on traditional infrastructure cannot succeed. What drives the economy today is not the old mix of highways and single-family homes but new, idea-driven industries. They range from software, communication devices and biotechnologies to culture and entertainment - and importantly the convergence of the two.Wonderful stuff there with a great historical perspective: the FDR New Deal worked because it moved us forward into a new economy. We now need to think carefully about whether we are trying to hold on to yesterday or whether we are forging a new economy, one that will make us productive in the future. Arts by their very nature are involved in the process of creation. We need the arts to help us create a new economy in which communication, technology, and creation are key players.
The familiar kind of stimulus - the "shovel-ready" kind that built highways and roads, and worked so well during the Great Depression and its aftermath - worked precisely because it didn't stimulate that period's aging agriculture economy. Instead, it accelerated the transition to a new economy based on housing, autos and all the products of the industrial assembly line, from refrigerators and washing machines to air conditioners and television sets.
The Keynes-derived notion of pouring money into public works built the roads and infrastructure that spurred postwar demand and primed North America for postwar global economic dominance, because the consumption embedded in our suburban way of life stimulated just the right kind of industrial production.
But eventually the system got out of whack. The housing and credit bubbles of the past decade ultimately biased and distorted our economy, channelling money and investment toward older industries, real estate and construction and away from more productive, innovative and creative ones.
For a stimulus to work today it has to stimulate the emerging creative economy, the engines of regional economic growth and higher incomes across Canada and the U.S.
Some of the more exciting initiatives I've read about lately are the arts housing communities that are forming. They're still in the early stages and will have a lot to learn before they can be successful, but they're experimenting and taking the necessary risks.
The Jackson Arts Armory Project is one such undertaking. It creates housing and community where artists can live and create, incorporating studios into their living spaces.
The housing industry long ago figured out that they had to provide more than just walls and a roof to convince people to buy. They needed to create communities--whether gated or open--that gave people a reason to live in a particular place. They did this with suburbs and golf course and (more recently) spas. Art has always been about building connections and community.
It's easy to think about arts in such simple terms as creating murals in downtrodden neighborhoods--and those are wonderful, but the arts can go further in making a community somewhere that people want to live and where businesses want to invest. They help to give a voice to the people living in the community and to express how they want to live and what their concerns are.
Let me quote Kristine again, though this time from an interview more than a year ago:
If you can say one thing about the non-profit world, it is this: we’re big on ideas, short on cash. But it shouldn’t be that way. The not-for-profit world was created to fill a dire need in our communities. It doesn’t reflect commerce or regulations as do our businesses and our governments.
Both business and government can do precious little in terms of affecting social awareness and change. Non-profits exist to exalt the human soul, to rescue it when needed, to make life better, healthier, worth living. Hospitals, schools, churches, the Salvation Army, the Girl Scouts - that’s the work they do - they exist to change human experience for the better And by the way, the non-profits in this country are the country's largest employer.
We move forward together just a little bit to become a more decent and compassionate people. Theater does that whether we’re presenting serious drama or farce or light comedy. That’s why preserving the health of this organization is paramount.
is a unique community - and this theater will reflect the life of this particular community. Lansing
If our urban areas are to survive, then they need to give people a reason to be there. They need culture--which is precisely where the arts come in. Think what could happen in Lansing or in any community if there were stimulus money available to build performance spaces, to construct outdoor arenas where the public can gather for concerts or performances, if studios were built to support the arts, to research the technologies of sound, light, and design.
- Project where artists create a plan for unzoned land in consultation with residents.
- Taking lessons in urban design from Thomas Kinkade's philosophy
- A 60-page booklet published in 2003 on how the traditional arts can support and contribute to economic development. Part of its thesis is that there are three main arguments for why the fine arts should be a part of economic development: 1) Active cultural participation builds strong communities. 2) Strengthening cultural communities creates economic value. 3) The value created by cultural production can be harnessed for regional growth.
- Seattle's efforts at creating affordable housing for working artists through targeted economic development.
- Research abstract on cultural clusters and sustainable urban development.
The Americans for the Arts went to Congress at the beginning of this year with several proposals for the role that arts could play in economic recovery. In their position statement, they wrote:
By investing in the arts, we're supporting an industry that is built on innovation and creativity, economic development, and the revitalization of America's communities and downtowns. When we increase investment in the arts, we are generating tax revenues, jobs, and a creativity-based 21st century competitive economy.Some of their proposals included:
- Artists be included in any unemployment and heath care benefits offered to part-time employees.
- Boost arts projects in Community Development Block Grants. The "bricks & mortar" funding of the CDBG program is a primary government source for local arts instiutions of all disciplines. They called for $2 billion in funding for arts-specific projects to modernize, rehabilitate, and construct our nation's cultural facilities.
- Provide economic recovery support to federal cultural agencies to increase current grantee projects. It encouraged the NEA to be able to allocate more money to formula grants that are administered through current local arts agency programs. This gets the money out to communities across the nation, disbursing local funding to all arts disciplines, employing artists and the cultural work force, and increasing access to the arts to leverage spending by audiences.
- Include cultural planning through Economic Development Administration. Grants would help meet the increasing need for local cultural district planning and assisting municipalities with developing the creative economy in their communities.
- Increase cultural facilities support in Rural Development Program.
- Link Transportation Enhancements with state arts agencies so that they can contribute to transportation projects such as pedestrian and bicycle facilities, historic preseration and public art projects.
- Expand the services available to workers in the creative sector and through arts instutions that can provide professional development training to help workers find new skills.