Friday, March 19, 2010

Social Impact

Recently, Addison Registrar and Financial Administrator Denise Johnson and I attended an event entitled “Telling our Story: the Local Cultural Council 2010 Statewide Assembly.” We were addressed by state legislators, the head of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and the president of Americans for the Arts, one of the leading national non-profit arts advocacy groups.

As one might expect, the speakers discussed the concerns facing the arts community as a result of the current economic climate. This was not merely an opportunity to lament financial setbacks, however. It was a time to reevaluate the importance of arts and cultural institutions and where their funding needs fit into federal, state, and personal budgets.

At the Addison, the collection itself is a precious trove of American art and culture to be conserved and shared with students, artists, and lovers of art in the Phillips Academy community and far beyond, as it has been for generations past and will be for generations to come. For many people, supporting that legacy is cause enough. But for others, the hardship they see in today’s world leads them to question their philanthropic priorities. It is difficult for museum lovers — and museum employees — to accept that, because the art is so close to our hearts. We must recognize, however, that these issues are being raised every day, and we must face them. It was this most pressing of concerns that the speakers at the Assembly confronted.

Art can be beautiful. It can be moving, disturbing, whimsical, evocative, and powerful. It can also be an economic and social force. Arts education reaches students at risk of failure and connects them to their schools and their communities1. Art is good for our children. In some of our poorest cities, like Lawrence, MA, where the Addison’s Education Department provides extensive services, young people with exposure to arts and arts education are more likely to have low rates of juvenile delinquency and truancy2. Art lowers crime and helps fight the cycle of poverty. Workers trained in arts and cultural fields drive the success of leading industries, including software development, telecommunications, and new media3. Art prepares students for the jobs of the future. In Massachusetts alone, arts and cultural nonprofits employ 37,000 people, collect and pay $6.6 million in state sales taxes, and have a total economic impact of over $4.2 billion4. Art powers the job market and the economy.

The benefits hardly stop there. Bringing arts and culture into a neighborhood is one of the most successful means of revitalizing it. One need look no further than the DUMBO district in Brooklyn or downtown Lowell, Massachusetts to see flourishing examples of struggling areas revitalized by the introduction of artists, arts organizations, and cultural offerings.

What this Statewide Assembly brought home to me is how vast an impact the arts have. It is an influence that goes far beyond the intellectual or emotional appeal of works of art or cultural offerings. We must advocate for our arts institutions and for arts funding on the local, state, and federal level in order not only to preserve access to these institutions, but also to protect the social and economic benefits they provide. If you would like to let your state or US congresspersons or senators know about the importance of support for the arts, you can visit the Contact Elected Officials page of the website to find names, phone numbers, and addresses for all your representatives.

Art matters, perhaps more now than ever before.

Posted by:

Samantha Katzen
Development Associate

1. “Creative Economy Initiative: The Role of the Arts and Culture in New England’s Economic Competitiveness,” The New England Council, 2000.
2. “The Gifts of the Muse: Reframing the Debate About the ‘Benefits of the Arts’,” by Kevin F. McCarthy, Elizabeth H. Ondaatje, Laura Zakaras, and Arthur Brooks, the RAND Corporation, 2004.
3. “Culture Builds Community: Evaluation Summary Report,” by Mark J. Stern and Susan C. Seifert, Social Impact of the Arts Project, University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work, 2002.
4. “New England’s Creative Economy: The Non-Profit Sector,” 2002 by Gregory H. Wassail Ph.D and Douglas DeNatale Ph.D, New England Foundation for the Arts, 2005.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Magnificent presentation. I never really thought about the subject before.