(Courtesy Dave Loewenstein, created in response to the battle to save the Kansas Arts Commission)
I was driving to work earlier this week when I heard a story on NPR that caught my attention. Apparently, last year Kansas earned the distinction of becoming the first US State to completely eliminate arts funding when Governor Brownback shut down the Kansas Arts Commission in an attempt to balance his budget. By taking away their state funding, this misguided move had inadvertently started a ripple effect, as now Kansas nonprofit arts organizations were no longer eligible for matching funds available from the Federal government. As you can imagine, this was a devastating blow to many organizations that relied on the Kansas Arts Commission to fund the less glamorous aspects of their operation such as utilities, paper goods, and office supplies.
Last week, however, according to the NPR report, the citizens of Kansas fought back and rallied to restore their funding. They demanded that art be seen as a necessity rather than a luxury. This particular quote stood out to me:
"I mean, this was thousands of advocates who worked really hard over the last year and a half to explain why the arts were important in their communities, to explain what this meant in their lives," she (Sarah Fizell, of the advocacy group Kansas Citizens for the Arts) says. "And I really believe that that voice was heard by the governor and by legislators."
This got me thinking - is access to the arts a right or a privilege? Do arts organizations provide a necessary service that should be supported by the government, or is it a luxury that should be driven by the private sector?
Last year I was calling high schools to get drama teacher contacts for our annual TheatreFest, only to receive the unfortunate response that their drama departments no longer exist. Anecdotally, I have heard other tales of schools slashing their music and art programs, a trend which greatly saddens me. When I was a child, art was integral to my education experience. We had "Meet the Masters" sessions in our classrooms, which taught us about visual artists. We were required to play the violin in 4th grade and maintain some kind of musical participation throughout the rest of our elementary years. The fact that the arts are now one of the first things to be cut in schools is really causing the loss of the positive impact that the arts has on the development of students' cognitive abilities.
Interestingly, in the NPR article I found about Kansas' initial destruction of the Kansas Arts Commission, economist Laurence Reed of the Foundation for Economic Education was quoted as saying, "The arts are simply too important to be dependent on the government." Although I think the intent behind the statement is interesting, it is my belief that the arts are too important to not receive some assistance from the government. Obviously, I fall more along the "arts are a right" argument.
However, perhaps in the current climate of economic recession legislators can't be swayed by the cultural value of the arts. When the unemployment rate is nearly 10% and our government is horribly in debt, it can seem like an easy fix to put arts funding as the lowest priority. But what about the value of arts in terms of creating revenue and jobs in America? Would that gain support for a surge in arts funding to use the arts as a catalyst to help change the economic climate?
Enter Mr. Cott and his lovely "You've Cott Mail" service, which sent out the link to the summary of a study that does just that - providing concrete evidence of the economic impact of the arts in America. According to this synopsis, the non-profit arts industry provides over $135 billion in economic activity when you take into account both the spending of arts organizations and the spending of arts consumers during their participation at an event. More compelling is the fact that non-profit arts and cultural organizations account for 2.24 million full-time equivalent jobs. Of course, these jobs are not limited only to those who work directly for the organizations, but also to indirect employees such as "builders, plumbers, accountants, printers, and an array of occupations spanning many industries," but even direct employees alone make up 1.1 million full-time equivalent jobs, and .87% of the workforce. Surely these figures help to make the case for government funding. This, of course, is another complicated issue that I haven't fully explored, but I'd love to hear your thoughts on funding and the value of arts in America.
I'm leaving today for the annual TCG Conference, where I will get to meet managers from nonprofit theaters all over the country and attend some great sessions about arts management led by the experts! Tune in next week for my recap of this exciting event.
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