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Is there a Better Case for the Arts?
A Public Conversation Among People Who Care

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March 07, 2005

Reader Comments & A Note For Ben

Readers have been commenting on the discussion so far. You can read full comments here. A sampling:

"We allowed our detractors to define us, and rather than looking at this challenge as an opportunity to re-invigorate support of the Arts as necessary to a healthy world, we attempted to justify our existence on our enemies terms. Namely, we attempted to justify the arts, which exist in an artistic currency, into an accountants' financial currency. Thus, we lost before we began to respond."
- Peter Ellenstein
"Until a person has been touched by the arts, you cannot convince them through argument that the experience will be good for them (implied: but unpleasant). Trying to convince the world of the benefits of the arts, educationally, financially, or even culturally, is a waste of time and resources, which could be better directed towards creating the art itself." - Chris Patton
"As usual, we will discuss the public value of the arts by ignoring the public arts. Where are the arts of the daily public realm - graphic design, product design, fashion, architecture, urban design, landscape design and even the official public art? All the arts discussed require someone to go inside a box - classroom, theater or museum and usually pay for the opportunity. Everyday in South Florida, I work with very sincere people in all walks of life. Directed by planners, elected officials and citizen volunteers, they strive to enhance the visual and pedestrian quality of their community. Every city has discussions of design guidelines, signage ordinances and streetscape programs, to name a few. These are active, passionate civic discussions about the value aesthetics in their communities." - Glenn Weiss
"Given that maximum accessibility is imperative, how can people who head arts non-profits say things like that or support them when they charge exorbitant admissions fees that price out many people, particularly young people?" - Tyler Green
"We spend a lot of time bemoaning the anti-intellectualism that seems to have taken hold in the US over the last few decades, but in my view, this issue is simply a red herring distracting us from the larger problem, which is that arts groups have been left in the dust by a finely honed science of marketing/branding which has been embraced by nearly every other profession. The good news is, this sorry condition ought to be completely reversible, if we can just get over our own profundity and start acting like the entertainers we are." - Sam Bergman
"It seems like there are two parts to this issue of making a case for the arts. On the one hand, any of us who are directly involved in creating the work need no justification for continuing to do so. We already get it. And the same goes for the core audience, those that really love painting or music or books, etc. They probably developed this connection on their own (or through their friends), and don't need to be convinced that the arts are good for them. Do we really need a larger audience, made up of a bunch of people that show up for the nutritional value? Is more really better? I'm not sure that it is." - David

To Ben: I think we're essentially saying the same thing.

You write:

"I hope Doug does not truly mean to suggest that a "hot product" somehow is more worthy--do we value Alien vs. Predator more than Sideways because it was #1 at the box office for many weeks? Does he really mean that movies don't spend time telling us movies are good for us?"

I hadn't meant my comment of "a hot product" in terms of box office, but in terms of an artistic product. My point was that in focusing so much on the box office and in trying to make a product designed for maximum sell, that the art itself often seems to be following and passionless rather than leading.

The Hollywood reference is a flawed one, to be sure. I meant merely to suggest that you don't see Fox campaigning for the value of movies - they're too busy trying to up the sizzle factor of whatever specific movie they're trying to promote. I think it might be an important distinction...

Posted by mclennan at March 7, 2005 11:05 AM


In what ways are the creation, experience, performance, investigation into, or reflection on art and artistic processes not about learning? And since when have the arts not made good use of content knowledge in other disciplines? I think James Catterall and others are making the point as respondents that a large array of cognitively diverse and emotionally charged forms of learning are intrinsic to the arts- whether or not they fall within the boundaries of what we might currently define as arts learning.
Many of us in the field of arts education and arts education research are growing weary of the arguments for or against the so-called secondary learning values of the arts when a wide range of learning outcomes is the inevitable outcome of any highly engaged arts experience. It is especially troubling to see that those who do testify or investigate arts learning outcomes that draw attention to phenomena out of alignment with some arts organizations’ notion of primary values of the arts ostensibly become “the enemy” of the best case for the arts. It would just as nonsensical to state the reverse, that is, making the case for the intrinsic values of the arts should be secondary to – or is the enemy of - making the case for the intrinsic value of learning. Neither point of view works if learning values are inseparable from the arts.
Yet, however the case for the arts is framed from these discussions, the success and stature of the arts in our society most likely will depend on an expanded provision and assessment of learning experiences for the millions of children, youth and adults who deserve high quality arts learning experiences as a basic component of our public school and higher education system. Therefore our case for the arts is best directed toward educational leadership responsive to the need for excellent and equitable arts programs that document and provide evidence for broad learning outcomes beneficial to all constituents of public school communities. –Larry Scripp

Posted by: Larry Scripp at March 8, 2005 07:30 AM

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This weeklong weblog is now closed, but will remain on-line as an archive of our conversation. In addition, the entries and reader comments are available for download in Adobe Acrobat format, suitable for reading on-screen or printing. You will need the free Acrobat reader software to open the files below:

Participant Entries (~880K, pdf)
Full text of the posts of our 11 invited participants.
Reader Comments (~900K, pdf)
Full text of reader comments posted to the site.

Is there a better case to be made for the arts? more...

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Ben Cameron
Executive director of Theatre Communications Group more

Adrian Ellis
Managing consultant of AEA Consulting more

Bill Ivey
Director of the Curb Center, Former Chair, NEA more

Joli Jensen
Professor, University of Tulsa, Author: "Is Art Good for Us?" more

Jim Kelly
Director, 4Culture, Seattle, WA more

Phil Kennicott
Culture critic, Washington Post more

Glenn Lowry
Director, Museum of Modern Art more

Robert L. Lynch
President, Americans for the Arts more

Violinist more

Andrew Taylor
Director, Bolz Center, University of Wisconsin more

Russell Willis Taylor
President, National Arts Strategies more

Doug McLennan
Editor, ArtsJournal.com

Gifts of the MuseGifts of the Muse
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
An initiative of London-based think tank, Demos. This effort brought cultural and policy leaders together to discuss the public value of culture in the UK. Resources include (with a downloadable briefing report by Adrian Ellis), a collection of speeches from the event in June 2003, and a summary report by John Holden called Capturing Cultural Value.

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
A project of the Performing Arts Research Coalition, researched by the Urban Institute, exploring measures of value in specific cities across the United States. Reports are available for download.

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