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Is there a Better Case for the Arts?
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March 10, 2005

Greg Sandow Weighs In...

Greg wanted to contribute to this, but his post turned into an essay longer than we could accomodate on the blog. So I excerpt it here, with a link to the full piece:

Here’s the problem. We — the arts — are an industry that needs more support. We want the rest of the world to think that whatever’s in our interest is also in their interest. Or as one of President Eisenhower’s cabinet appointees once famously said, “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country.”

I can imagine howls of protest for that last quote. We’re not General Motors. We don’t make anything as crass as cars. We’re not corporate profiteers. But we are making the same assumption that 1950’s CEO made, except that we make it about our stuff, not his. We deeply believe that the arts are good for everybody, and even necessary for everybody (or at least necessary somewhere in our culture). and I’m highlighting this belief as crassly as I did because—and I can’t stress this enough—we haven’t proved this assumption!

That’s where the study comes in, of course. It tries (among other things) to point us toward useful ways of making our argument. And for that it’s very helpful. But still it’s only taking baby steps, because the arguments it suggests aren’t yet helpful at all. In its section on “intrinsic benefits,” the study suggests that arts involvement can lead to four things, all of them good for society:

• expanded capacity for empathy
•cognitive growth
•creation of social bonds
•expression of communal meaning

But does it provide any proof? No. It’s ironic, really, to read these claims... click here to read the rest...

Posted by mclennan at March 10, 2005 12:06 PM


General Motors was very smart, with the help of General Eisenhower. They destroyed a whole transportation industry.

I feel the "arts industry" needs to look at all the parts and get beyond the competition that will lead to a blood bath. Artists are a part, the foot soldiers if you will, who take the direct shots. The competition for support, a small part of the battle field, leads to all kinds of atrocities. Greed for the small handouts leads some to loose all ethical values. Back stabbing, cheating and stealing is nothing new. Art is part of human intellect, a basic human characteristic, not an acquired taste.

Both Hitler and Churchill made art, one seen as right and one wrong. Was art making a determining factor. Some have mentioned Dewey and the conflict that seems to linger is one of high art and low art. I return to the personal because my experience teaches me. When I was an art major in high school I, like many teens, loved cars. My goal was to build a better car then a Ferrari. In college I met an art professor who helped me see, right or wrong, that what I loved was the form. I therefore was lead to make sculptures not cars. Was this a good decision? Part of the reason I chose sculpture was the fact that I didn't want to spend twenty years designing door handles. GM might have had some cool ones if I hadn't followed the other path.

We as artists can choose to work together or we can choose to act like a bunch of sharks in frenzy.

Posted by: Charles Hankin at March 10, 2005 01:22 PM

That was one of the best entries I've read yet. Or at least, it captured my attention better than most (no offense to the other bloggers who have done a fantastic job, it's a testament to my attention spam).

I agree completely with this, and there are a few points to which I want to give my 2 (Canadian) cents. Be forwarned that my bias is theatre:

1. "Does art create social bonds?" and art as a communal force:
Independent of your own sports reference, I've always believed that sports creates social bonds more than art does. People are enraptured by competition and conflict. It's the "good guys" vs. the "bad guys". Maybe this one of the reasons why reality TV does so well.

People are bonding as much over the LACK of (NHL) hockey as they were over the sport itself. What I find interesting and a bit sad (because it should be a selling point) is that theatre is now more financially accessible than sports, with "pay what you can" performances and half price same day tickets and it's easy to find cheap museum/gallery days. It would have been nice if theatre [and other arts] marketers had stepped up to try to fill the void that the NHL left this year. Different audience, yes, but why not try to bring them over to "our" side?

2. "The idea that art can make us better people"

How does one define "better"?

3. "Another way to facilitate early arts involvement would be to tap into young people’s involvement in the commercial arts"

Agreed. In many ways it's up to parents to expose their children to the arts and art early on, and up to educators to either take their students to the art or have the art come to them. The oranization that I work for facilitates this, coordinating school tours and supplying curriculum materials for every performance so that a dance, theatre, music, storytelling or puppet show can be integrated into the curriculum. We know that it leaves a lasting impression.

I have more thoughts on this but it's more verbal/dialogue-y stuff.

Posted by: Andrea T. at March 11, 2005 10:11 AM

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Free access to the full RAND study at the core of this conversation, funded by the Wallace Foundation. An executive summary is also available. Other Wallace Foundation publications and reports are available through its Knowledge Center.

Top arts researchers will come together to present and dissect the latest data at Measuring the Muse, an unprecedented National Arts Journalism Program-Alliance for the Arts conference at Columbia University.

The Values Study
A collaborative effort of 20 Connecticut arts organizations, the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism, and facilitator/author Alan S. Brown. The effort trained arts leaders to interview key members of their constituency, to discover what they valued about the creative experience -- in their own words. The process was sponsored by The Wallace Foundation's State Arts Partnerships for Cultural Participation (START) Program.

Valuing Culture
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The Arts and Economic Prosperity
The 2002 report and related resources assessing the economic impact of America's nonprofit arts industry, based on surveys of 3,000 nonprofit arts organizations and more than 40,000 attendees at arts events in 91 cities in 33 states, plus the District of Columbia.

The Value of the Performing Arts in Ten Communities
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