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Blog: The arts in crisis

So funding to not-for-profit arts organizations is being slashed in the state budget. But that's ok, because the arts are what people with money do in their leisure time, right? And if those people want the arts, well, they can afford to pay extra or to be philanthropists. It's not something that will affect most of us, right?

And the arts at school levels are being cut too, because, well, it's nice if the kids can learn an instrument or paint pictures or go to a museum, but that's only an extra. It's not going to help them get a job, right?

Wrong. And wrong, and wrong again. Very wrong.

Yes, the arts contribute hugely to people's leisure activity--in fact, more than sports, even in Pittsburgh. We all need the arts to enrich our lives and help us make meaning of them, as well as give us pleasure. Concerts, films, plays, exhibitions, and other arts all do this, and the impact and effect is profound.

In addition, the arts shape our everyday life. Go into any room, and look around you. Your living room, your place of work, a restaurant where you eat--anything in that room that has been manufactured could have been worked on by someone with an arts education, who got the passion for the arts when they were at school.  

Architecture literally shapes our lives; designers determine our clothes, furniture, cars; we listen to music, watch films and tv, use computer interfaces. Remember that Apple was a failing company before the iPod--and it was design that turned Apple around, not technology.

Here are some facts and research findings about the impact of the arts.

The Economy

The arts have huge economic impact. *Locally, the nonprofit arts:
•    generate $341.5 million in local economic activity—$230 million by the organizations and an additional $110.8 million in event-related spending.
•    support 10,192 jobs and generate $204 million in household income to local residents
•    generate $33.8 million in local and state government revenue.

The nonprofit arts in Pennsylvania:
•    support 62,000 full-time equivalent jobs
•    generate $283 million in state and local tax revenue
•    generate $2 billion in economic activity in Pennsylvania annually.
•    support tourism.  Over 30 million people attended arts events in 2007.

Tourists attending arts and culture events support the economy, spending $30.69 per person per event in addition to admission costs. Furthermore, the arts are a key attraction for the 10 million people who visit Pittsburgh annually. Travel is a $3 billion industry providing over 50,000 full-time jobs in Allegheny County.

On the performance, behavior, and self-esteem of school kids.

'Champions of Change', funded by The GE Fund and the Macarthur Foundation, reports that music students consistently achieved higher levels of proficiency in math than non-music students. "Low SES (socio-economic status) students…not only scored higher in math than low SES students who were not involved in music but also better than the average of all students…21% of eighth grade music students from low SES households scored high in math compared to 11% of non-music low SES students. By grade 12, these figures were 33% and 16%, respectively."

A study from Columbia University of 2046 children in grades 4-8 researched basic intellectual processes and personal attributes – creative thinking, general competencies, and perception of self as learner. Their findings? Students involved in high arts schools were superior to those in low arts schools in finding solutions, originality, elaboration (more detail in formulating solutions) and tendency to keep an open mind and avoid rushing to premature judgment.

They also fared better than other students in expression, risk-taking, cooperation and synthesis.  And they were more confident than non-arts students.

Teachers in schools with high levels of arts education identified five effects of arts learning, from the ability to express ideas and feelings opening and thoughtfully to imagining a problem from different points of view and working toward a resolution.

How to act for the arts.
So, next time you see that the arts in schools are under threat, or hear that the state is cutting funding for the arts, or you hear someone say that the arts are elitist, please remember the fact and figures above, and argue for support for the arts. Sign the petition to the state representatives, and phone the superintendent's office. We all benefit from everyone having access to the arts.

Hilary Robinson is Professor of Art Theory and Criticism at Carnegie Mellon. She is the former Dean of the College of Fine Arts, and is on the boards of five Pittsburgh not-for-profit arts organizations.

*All of the facts for this article, and much more besides, can be found at the following links:

Pittsburgh is Art 

Links to contact legislators, from Citizens for the Arts in PA 

Photograph copyright Brian Cohen

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