There is the potential for movements in Kentucky government that would threaten support of the arts in our communities and classrooms across the state.
There’s also Senate Bill 1, “phase 2,” which proposes the elimination of federal standards for education. Proponents believe the bill puts control back in the hands of the state and will save money; opponents believe schools will fall behind nationally and globally and key courses and skills will be under-represented or not represented at all.
I know I don’t have to convince you the arts are important. None of us make it through a day without meeting art somewhere along the way, and the way it informs us, communicates an idea, an identity, a memory, a meaning walks with us consciously or unconsciously.
The object of art is to give life a shape, said Jean Anouilh in his play “The Rehearsal.”
It certainly shaped mine. A band visited my school in the third grade, and I went home and immediately asked for a drum set. I didn’t get it — my mother feared the noise, but before long, a guitar made its way into the home, and that was the gateway into a multi-disciplinary career in the arts and nonprofits.
I now serve as director of education and actor for Kentucky Shakespeare, the oldest free Shakespeare festival and largest in-school touring arts provider in Kentucky. I also write for Insider Louisville and have worked in the visual arts going on forever. All of which give me a healthy firsthand vantage point of what the arts can mean to a community and a classroom.
What I do now — be it with the amazing team of actors, directors and designers in the park, or in the classroom with an equally amazing group of actors and educators — is deliver the same shock to the soul delivered to 8-year-old Kyle years ago. And let me tell you, it’s a privilege when you see it happen. And you totally can see it happen.
So here’s what experience tells me as practitioner and educator.
Art moves us from the land of what could be into the land of what is, empowering us to make our imaginations the templates for tomorrow’s reality. It teaches us to experiment, to make beautiful mistakes from which to make our most glorious successes. It gives us courage to face the challenges within and outside ourselves and the ability to find comfort within the uncomfortable. It welcomes creative solutions to difficult problems, to make sense of the abstract and to allow the abstract to help simultaneously understand and question the absolutes.
And therein lies the problem: I just said I wasn’t going to convince you the arts are important and that sounds an awful lot like convincing. But that’s what we in the arts do now. Almost instinctively. Because the nature of art is so broad and the appreciation of art as a discipline and its contribution to community can be attributed to taste, it can appear less essential in a budget line item or curriculum because it’s thought to be trickier to quantify (which I’ll do in a second).
We rarely say about Bill, the plumber, “I’m just not into his work” unless the sink still leaks after he’s gone. It can be a much more direct gauge for success than a piece of modern dance or the story mechanics of “The Force Awakens” in which we can see the same set of information and disagree about our conclusions — the same critical thinking skills, by the way, the arts develop.
Or its place in our lives is thought of as “extra.” The New York Times quotes Bill Ivey, director of the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise and Public Policy at Vanderbilt University: “The arts are considered an amenity — nice to fund when you have a bit extra but hard to defend when the going gets tough.”
So our subjective consumption of art may be what alters the conversation and keeps us from narrowing in on the benefits of arts practice and exposure — no matter one’s vocation.
So let’s look at the objective.
The Kentucky Arts Council, the one rumored for reduction or elimination, released this infographic detailing its 2015 Public Value Summary.
That’s $1,417,422 in Partnership Funding, $1,455,159 in taxes for the state, $61,876,454 in funds leveraged. Almost 6 million arts experiences in Kentucky and close to 1.5 millions youth in over 4,000 schools in all 120 counties served.
The arts and your Kentucky Arts Council make good fiscal sense, Kentucky. Art is good business.
Here’s an excerpt from the National Governors Association (NGA) Center for Best Practices Arts and the Economy: Using Arts and Culture to Stimulate State Economic Development:
Arts and culture…also known as “creative industries,” provide direct economic benefits to states and communities: They create jobs, attract investments, generate tax revenues, and stimulate local economies through tourism and consumer purchases. These industries also provide an array of other benefits, such as infusing other industries with creative insight for their products and services and preparing workers to participate in the contemporary workforce. In addition, because they enhance quality of life, the arts and culture are an important complement to community development, enriching local amenities and attracting young professionals to an area.
That’s a lot. And that line about enticing young professionals and tourism dollars — that’s true for Louisville too. Our Convention and Visitors Bureau and Fund for the Arts tout Louisville as one of the few cities its size with resident professional theater, opera, orchestra and ballet. That’s a selling point for the young professional and potential traveller thinking beyond horses and bourbon.
The dollars vary, but the outcomes are similar. Take this report released in 2012: Creative State Michigan found “for every $1 invested by the state, the arts and culture nonprofit sector contributed $51 into the Michigan economy.” Now that’s an ROI. Or this Oklahoma study, “The Economic Impact of Nonprofit Arts and Culture Organizations in Oklahoma.” Here’s an excerpt:
The key lesson from the Economic Impact of Nonprofit Arts and Culture Organizations in Oklahoma study is that communities that invest in the arts reap the additional benefit of jobs, economic growth, and a quality of life that positions those communities to compete in our 21st century creative economy.
Which leads me back to education. According to Edutopia:
Involvement in the arts is associated with gains in math, reading, cognitive ability, critical thinking, and verbal skill. Arts learning can also improve motivation, concentration, confidence, and teamwork. A 2005 report by the Rand Corporation about the visual arts argues that the intrinsic pleasures and stimulation of the art experience do more than sweeten an individual’s life — according to the report, they “can connect people more deeply to the world and open them to new ways of seeing,” creating the foundation to forge social bonds and community cohesion. And strong arts programming in schools helps close a gap that has left many a child behind: From Mozart for babies to tutus for toddlers to family trips to the museum, the children of affluent, aspiring parents generally get exposed to the arts whether or not public schools provide them. Low-income children, often, do not. “Arts education enables those children from a financially challenged background to have a more level playing field with children who have had those enrichment experiences,” says Eric Cooper, president and founder of the National Urban Alliance for Effective Education.
And here’s the problem of where we are and where we’re going, from the same report:
Arts education has been slipping for more than three decades, the result of tight budgets, an ever-growing list of state mandates that have crammed the classroom curriculum, and a public sense that the arts are lovely but not essential.
That perception is diminishing the role of arts in the classroom. Well-meaning educators feel they’ve little choice but to minimize art education in order to better serve other disciplines and studies.
In its study, “Ready to Innovate,” The Conference Board asks, “Are educators and executives aligned on the creative readiness of the U.S. workforce?”
From the report:
Even though employers value the arts when seeking new hires with creative ability, most of the school districts we surveyed did not require classes in these disciplines. In fact, 15 percent did not offer any classes in studio arts. The question then becomes: how many students are not enrolled in these classes altogether and, as a result, are not adequately preparing themselves for a world where creativity is a critical skill businesses are looking for?
The hope, of course, is that all this worry is unnecessary — that KAC remains strong in the governor’s budget and SB1 doesn’t eliminate or weaken arts standards.
But the case remains the same regardless, for study after study suggests this is an area that wants our attention and prioritizing, be it under immediate peril of elimination or not. The conversation began for fear the current rate of support will soon be in jeopardy, but should there be no such jeopardy, it’s an opportunity to grow and do better by our 21st century artists.
If we want to compete economically, we must include the arts. If we want to grow the best societies, we must include the arts. If we want to know and be our best selves, we must include the arts. If we want to ensure there is a next generation of artists, we must include the arts.
We must include the arts. Full stop.
The cost otherwise is simply too great.