What is the Value of the Arts to the Public?

By Wendy Liscow, Program Officer

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My mama frequently said, “It could always be worse.”  That advice was little consolation to the Arts Community when the New Jersey State Council on the Arts announced in July a 25% cut in their 2010  fiscal year grants.  Although not a surprise to the Arts community, the state cut, combined with other cuts in giving from foundations (including Dodge) and corporations, means even more challenging times lie ahead for cultural organizations.  I worry that my mama’s prediction will come true next year as government budgets continue to shrink and the demand for basic services grows.  It is during these times that it is even more important to make the case for supporting the Arts.  The reasons abound. 

Miami Herald writer Jordan Levin recently wrote a passionate op-ed piece in response to Florida’s arts funding being cut from $34 million in 2007 to $3 million this year and the resultant shuttering of arts companies.  Levin made a cogent defense for public funding of the Arts especially during difficult economic times – a case that applies not just to Miami, but to the entire nation.

When I am making the case for the Arts, I often find myself being pulled between two approaches.  Do I talk about what I personally value about the Arts, or do I assume the point of view of other potential stakeholders?  Strategic communications experts would teach that you have to discover what matters most to people and then approach them from a perspective of what they value.

Indeed the case for the investing in the Arts can be made from many perspectives:

A business person will be moved by the economic case. According to a 2007 survey, the nonprofit arts in New Jersey is a 1.2 billion dollar industry and supports 17,000 arts-related businesses which employ over 77,000 people.  New Jersey’s 800 nonprofit arts organizations are attended by over 18 million people!

A parent or teacher will champion the arts because of the educational benefits. Studies show that arts help prepare young people for the 21st century workplace by developing critical and integrative thinking, as well as teamwork, self-confidence and self-discipline.

Health workers and anyone facing a chronic illness or surgery will be influenced by the community wellness case. Clinical studies show that participating in arts activities shortens post-operative recovery and hospital stays, and reduces anxiety, depression and doctor visits.

State government leadership must recognize the importance the arts play in tourism, one of the key industries in our state. Mayors care about the restaurants, printing shops, and advertising agencies that thrive in their towns when the “lights are blazing” at cultural institutions.  Every dollar spent by an arts organization generates eight dollars in the local economy.

Realtors and homeowners will care about the appeal a vibrant cultural environment has for prospective home buyers. In this housing market, people continue to be drawn to the expansive creative culture that few states can match.

Then there are people like Jaimie Cloud of the Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education who believes that artists are creating the new narratives that will help us imagine, and then create, a more sustainable world. She recognizes that artists and the arts reflect back to us where we’ve been, where we are and where we want to go.

Together we are indeed creating a new narrative for the Arts in NJ.  Now is the time to champion the public value of the arts.  It is time for New Jerseyans to rally around Creativity in general and the Arts in particular.  There are four ways you can make your own personal statement:


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ONE:  Endorse Arts Plan: Go to the Arts Plan website and find out what hundreds of arts leaders and community members believe is a working plan to make arts a vibrant player in New Jersey.

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TWO:  Join ArtPride, New Jersey’s arts and history advocacy agency and share your story. Becoming a member helps Artpride tell the story of New Jersey’s cultural impact.  And while you are at it, help ArtPride build their story collection by telling them how and when the arts have touched your life.  They want to hear from arts practitioners, arts lovers, teachers, business men, and politicians.  And if you work in the Arts, Artpride is tracking what is and has been lost as a result of funding cutbacks and they are hoping you will send a quick email to artpride@artpridenj.com or call (609-479-3377, ext. 307) with your story.  This information will be extremely helpful as the ongoing advocacy strategy evolves.

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THREE:  Share your stories with Americans for the Arts Animating Democracy program which is working with the American Public Media’s   Public Insights Network project to show “how creativity can be a call to action.”

FOUR: Visit your local arts organization and know that every dollar spent is stimulating 8 times the amount for our economy.

One, two, three and four.  Four easy and utterly vital steps, and we are on our way to raising awareness of the public value of the arts.

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3 Responses to What is the Value of the Arts to the Public?

  1. Ben says:

    As a Development Director for a non-profit performing arts center in NJ, mine is hardly an unbiased opinion, but I think the arts do indeed have a valuable impact on the community.

    This is a serious issue for arts and culture organizations in New Jersey and even former governor Tom Kean believes that the funding for the arts should remain intact in New Jersey. His specific positions are a matter of public record and can be found through a cursory web search.

    We all have a stake in this policy issue and I urge everyone to learn more and contact your state and local legislators.

  2. karen says:

    I write on behalf of specific children who have graced the doors of our healing arts agency, not to tout our services but to tell you their stories in their words about the impact the arts have had on their lives. These are children who have been locked in psychiatric wards at the tender ages of seven to 13, physically and or sexually abused children who have been bounced from foster home to foster home, children living in diistraught and impovershed families with a parent fighting their own demons, and children who live in fear due to witnessing unspeakable horrors. These are just some of the children who have shared their thoughts and reflections with me about the value of the arts. Though they are nameless to you, trust me when I tell you I cannot accurately restate their powerful words without first pausing to honor them for their resilience and then their candor. These are the children who tell me the arts “saved” them, sometimes from themselves and sometimes from a system that purports to help them. Sure, they have told me that music is freeing, film is sometimes their only escape. and dance is the only way to numb their pain. They have revealed that the only time they feel a sense of control is on a stage and that writing poetry about their experiences is easier than retelling the events. That is not news, albeit a powerful testament. These are the same kinds of children who frequently ask me unanswerable compelling questions, such as “why their medications can’t make them feel as alive as they feel when they finish a piece of art” and “why the arts aren’t valued as a person’s “sacred” time” to stay well and “why isn’t art time a part of our guaranteed rights”. All of these conversations were important at the time but are even more important now as we face sizable cuts in arts funding. I conclude with the wise old sage advice from a six year old boy who has just started his journey through grief, “the world would be better off if we all carried crayons instead of pens and pencils, nothing would look dead ever again. What a metaphor!

  3. […] week I wrote about the importance of recognizing and instilling public value for the arts. So how do we do this? Are there things you are doing as an organization or as an individual that […]

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