Cities are banking on the arts
Once the first thing to be cut in a time of recession, the arts are proving their worth.
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Her organization is collecting evidence of beneficial social outcomes, like safety and crime reduction, derived from cultural activities. Not only does participating in arts activities help ethnic groups understand each other and boost at-risk youths' confidence and academic performance, but vibrant street life also deters crime.Skip to next paragraph
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Lacking hard data, the arts have been at a disadvantage in justifying support. By documenting their contributions to community priorities, "I'm hellbent," Ms. McCullough-Hudson says, "on getting the arts out of the 'nice' column and into the 'necessary' column."
For every $1 investment, $51 return
ArtServe Michigan (a nonprofit advocacy organization for the arts) has just released a Creative State Michigan report demonstrating benefits for the hard-pressed state. A 2009 database of reports from 211 arts-and-culture, nonprofit organizations shows that for each $1 the state spends on arts and culture, an amazing $51 goes back into the state economy. "A lot of eyeballs have popped," says Jennifer Goulet, president and CEO of ArtServe. "We've always known it had significant economic impact, but we've never had good data to prove it."
Pointing out the competing demands for funding in a recession, she says, "We can finally put a compelling number on why arts and culture are just as important as making sure we have good roads and good schools."
Arts advocates are quick to insist culture shouldn't be seen as a strictly utilitarian fix for budget-challenged cities or a tactic to revitalize decaying downtowns. Painting a picture has intrinsic as well as financial virtues. Beauty, delight, and helping people understand the human condition are immaterial but real rewards, they say. The arts also provoke people to think critically, a necessity for a democracy but one that still ignites culture wars.
In a time of belt-tightening, the arts are often the first item cut, seen as elitist. The nonprofit advocacy group Americans for the Arts sees its mission as educating legislators in the value of the arts. A 2005 study cited $166.2 billion in economic impact from nonprofit arts industries.
"It's a good business strategy to invest in the arts," says Robert Lynch, CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based organization. "Support for the arts from government has massive returns, not only in jobs and economic impact, but in tax dollars to the federal, state, and local coffers."
But, Mr. Lynch adds, "The main benefits of the arts are better thinking, better child, better town, better nation, better democracy, better world." Although some focus on practical issues more than intangible enrichment, "the beauty of supporting the arts is that you get both."