In times of budgetary crisis the first place government agencies and school districts have been looking for cuts is the arts. The arts are valuable because they allow for a creative outlet to share among members of our community along with providing means to boost our local economy.
First Lady Michelle Obama gave a speech in Fall 2009 in Pittsburgh where she said, “We believe strongly that the arts aren’t an ‘extra’ part of our national life, but instead we feel that the arts are at the heart of our national life. It is through our music, our literature, our art, drama and dance that we tell the story of our past and we express our hopes for the future. Our artists challenge our assumptions in ways that many cannot and do not. They expand our understandings and push us to view our world in new and very unexpected ways.” The arts are not simply an “extra” in our lives, they are a vital part of our community.
The arts are a form of cultural expression that brings communities together. They are at the core of every society dating back to the beginning of recorded history. A University of Pennsylvania study has shown that communities rich in culture possess higher civic engagement, more social cohesion, higher academic performance, and lower poverty rates. This is exactly the type of community that we, as members of society, are trying to create.
By our communities continuing to invest in the arts they will continue to invest in themselves. Beyond the cultural value discussed, art provides an entertainment value that will enable our community to thrive. Successful art organizations will draw citizens and patrons from surrounding areas in search of entertainment. These visitors will also make purchases from surrounding businesses and restaurants and raise exposure for communities.
On the outside, the arts may appear “something extra.” Eliminating them may seem like a quick and easy way to balance the budget. However, these assumptions are simply incorrect. The arts are at the heart of our life as a community. The arts provide an important cultural connection and allow our community to thrive.
Across the country the role of arts as an economic engine is growing in acceptance and strength. I call on all lawmakers to support funding and policies at the federal level that would recognize the growth potential and direct benefits of encouraging cities and states to strategically invest in the arts in order to drive economic development.
Dylan M. Wood