Validation, Sort of…

Finally, some validation! At 43, I can rest assured that my career choice is legitimate, at least in financial measures. Let me clarify, not my financial measures, but the financial measures of our collective nonprofit arts community. You see, recently Americans for the Arts published Arts & Economic Prosperity IV a “national study of the nonprofit arts and culture industry’s impact on the economy”. The study, a regular feature in my Facebook feed and emails for the last several days, is based on 2010 data (the latest available) that found “nationally our industry generated $135.2 billion of economic activity–$61.1 billion by the nation’s nonprofit arts and culture organizations in addition to $74.1 billion in event-related expenditures by their audiences. This economic activity supports 4.1 million full-time jobs. Our industry also generates $22.3 billion in revenue to local, state and federal governments each year–a yield well beyond their collective $4 billion in arts allocations.” Thank goodness people finally understand my contribution to society! Phew.

If I sound a little snarky, I apologize. First, let me acknowledge Americans for the Arts is a fantastic organization. We need them to do this work, and we need these numbers. But I think we need more. I worry that we aren’t properly framing our argument. Perhaps it is the fact that because I work in education, I have the opportunity, almost daily, to see the college students I work with build leadership skills, think more creatively, build empathy and grow in their experience and understanding of the world through our programs. Shouldn’t we also, just as boldly be making the case for those personal and social benefits of participation (making and/or consuming) in the arts? I know that economics is the language that government officials speak. But shouldn’t we also assume that they, their loved ones and family members are likely also to be arts and culture participants? Let’s make sure voters and officials alike know that participation in the arts develops leadership, empathy, self-confidence, a sense of belonging and more. Children who participate in the arts show improved academic achievement, win more awards, are more likely to perform community service, and show improved spacial reasoning, conditional reasoning and creative thinking. In short, participation in the arts at any age develops more confident, engaged, creative and self-aware citizens. Together, the economic impact partnered with the personal and social impact of the arts seem to me to be a more significant argument. I am certainly not the first, or only one to make this case. Thankfully, in 2012 we have more data on both sides of the argument to back up what, for decades, perhaps centuries, many have known. The arts make us better people.

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