It seems like every year, whether in recession as we are now, or in good times, that public based arts funding is attacked as an area where money could be saved. This begs the question: how important is it for the general public to fund the arts when so many difficult decisions must be made?
In NJ, many arts organizations are in trouble making payroll because Governor-elect Christie has frozen arts funds while he balances out the challenges our state faces. As part of the debate that must be occurring with many tough choices ahead, I would like to address why, in my opinion, arts funding is at the core of what is important on both an economic and quality of life basis.
According to our government's own studies, every dollar spent on arts funding brings back more than a dollar in tax revenue, and in many counties, a 100% return. Investing in arts infrastructure stimulates industry and business growth in both public and private sectors, which employ people and bring tax dollars back into the system. These returns are derived from tax revenues paid by artists, managers, venues in ticket sales, restaurant revenues from people who dine out because they are attending performances, gas bought to get to performances and openings, recordings purchased that were funded through government initiatives, tourism, and many other metrics where the arts are involved. Simply put, the arts bring commerce to our municipalities.
If I told you that an investment opportunity awaited that offered you a 100% return over the course of one year, wouldn't this be something you would want to invest in? This is a choice in front of our colleagues in governing positions.
Unfortunately, in the world of sound bite politics, the arts are an easy target because they are sold to many as artistic welfare for a small group of self-important elitists. This is as untrue as 2 + 2 =5! Rather, this public investment is a deep foundational affirmation that our society believes creative thinking is crucially important.
Do you want your kids to watch television rather than take music lessons and play in orchestras, or play video games rather than take painting classes where they capture emotion in what they see, or take only SAT prep courses rather than take acting classes where they can learn how to be compassionate and creative? What about taking pottery classes where they use their imaginations to create objects that are both functional and inspiring, or taking dance classes where motion captures transcendent emotion? Are we more interested in reality tv than in the beauty around us in reality? I hope we would want to add meaning and understanding to the world rather than simply be affected by it. Artists sacrifice financial gain in many cases to unlock the truths around us in sound, on canvas, in motion. What they bring to our lives and those of our children is the capacity to dream.
There are literally hundreds of studies that show the correlation between arts education and critical thinking, math aptitude, and writing skills. Take a look at virtually every major scientist who has done something of value and you will find in each a long standing passion for active participation in the arts - this is not a coincidence. People question why we are falling behind in the sciences and I ask, how can we stay ahead if the creative approaches that the arts teach are not core to our educational philosophy?
There are hundreds of studies that measure the qualitative and quantitative responses of our immune systems (as a health example) when affected by music, dance and visual arts. There are clear demonstrations for instance, that music can have a palliative and healing affect on people with cancer. This is why music therapy is being offered in so many hospitals around the world - it's because it works.
The fact is, from economic, educational, health, and moral perspectives, arts funding brings something to our collective existence that is indispensible. Until our colleagues in both government (and truthfully in local communities) think, evaluate, assess, and realize that their lives and those of their children are being devastated by potential cuts, they will continue to damage our ability to excel in endeavors that have global effect on us all.
Perhaps in NJ at least our new Governor will see that a job loss program with such far reaching effect is not prudent, and that while the upfront expense of arts funding is painful in a recession, the ultimate upside easily outweighs a quick fix decision, when in truth, the arts pays for itself on every level.