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The Link Between Art And The Economic Health Of The Community

Updated: Jul 13, 2020

We live and breathe art every single day.

Each and every one of us enjoys art of one form or another on a daily basis. We get into the car - we turn the radio on. We hop on the subway - we have our headphones on. What do we want to do when we just want to stay home and relax? Watch a movie. I love to sit down with a nice cup of tea and read a book. I have family and friends, and I bet so do you, who act and sing and dance and paint. Some people draw, some rap. Others use a camera as their tool of choice. At the end of the day we/they have all produced art.

From the walls of caves to the walls of galleries.

Prior to civilization, art was used as a way to communicate, a way to pass down stories, culture and information to following generations. From ancient to modern times, the societal impact the creative arts has had can't be understated. We continue to be molded by the arts, not just culturally but economically as well.

Artists impact a community in the same way as entrepreneurs.

Data released by the National Endowment for The Arts shows that the arts contributed well over $760 billion to the economy of our country in 2015 alone. It accounts for only 4.2% of the GDP. More so than transportation, warehousing or agriculture. Considering those numbers, it’s no surprise that nearly 5 million workers are employed in fields related to the arts across the United States. In addition, it supported a positive trade balance by exporting 20 billion more than it imported.

While the arts benefit a community by attracting tourists, creative talent and cultural diversity, it also attracts startup companies in the fields of fashion, advertising, design and marketing. This of course leads to jobs, new residents and a boost for other businesses in the vicinity. It’s a winning situation for all. Yet, somewhere along the way, as a society we've begun to lose sight of the importance art plays in our lives and communities.

For this to be the norm school systems need to get on board.

Our future artists, actors and musicians are in the classrooms of today. Unfortunately, data shows that lower income areas have less access to art related programs. When cuts in the budget are made, art classes are the first to go.

In 2018 close to 30 percent of students attending public school in Oklahoma had zero fine arts classes.

The US Department of Education’s proposed budget cuts for 2019 included completely eliminating Arts in education across the board for a savings of 27 million dollars. A drop in the bucket compared to the revenue that the arts contribute to the country.

If something doesn’t sound right about that, it’s because it’s not.

First let me point out that lower income neighborhoods are the first to be hit with the cuts. That’s right. Kids with more money get more access to band, chorus and art class.

This is still happening despite the proven data that having the access to cultural resources raises the test scores for kids in English and math, decreases serious crime rates, lowers cases of child abuse and neglect and even decreases obesity. In addition, it has been proven that children who can express themselves artistically have greatly reduced stress and anxiety.

The reason is in the data.

So why? Why with so much proof that art is profoundly good for our children, our communities and our country is it the first thing to be cut? The reason is in the data. The problem is that there is virtually none. According to a Brookings research report, most school systems in the United States do not collect nor report the data needed to gauge student participation in the programs. Implementing the most basic accountability systems like student/ teacher ratios, course availability and enrollment numbers would motivate schools to bolster and promote these programs rather than cut them.

It isn’t right.

This past weekend I had the pleasure of listening to 12 year old community activist Aemani Barton speak about the inequality of her education. Her school is in a low-income area most affected by these budget cuts. To hear her heartbreaking plea for the same education as the kids with more money should be at the very least shame inducing to those who decide to funnel funds to more affluent areas. For those of us there, not one of us was left without a lump in our throat or a tear in our eye. As a society we can and must do better because in the words of Aemani Barton “It isn’t Right.”



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