A Public Conversation Among People Who Care
Is there a better case to be made for the arts?
Ever since the Culture Wars of the late-80s, arts advocates have touted the economic, educational and social benefits of the arts in a flood of arts-impact studies designed to quantify and promote the arts' measurable benefits to society.
As a strategy, it seemed to work. Between 1993 and 2001, state public spending on the arts more than doubled in the US, from $211 million in 1993, to $447 million eight years later. The National Endowment for the Arts, which had been threatened with extinction, was stabilized. And the 90s saw an unprecedented boom in arts construction across America, with billions spent on new museums, concert halls and theatres.
But is it possible that the intrinsic benefits of the arts - those effects inherent in the arts experience itself - got lost in some of these arguments? A new RAND study, commissioned by The Wallace Foundation, Gifts of the Muse: Reframing the Benefits of the Arts, argues that basing so much of the case for the arts on their claimed external benefits - their utility in addressing public issues and concerns - has drawn us away from the true power and potential of the arts, and weakened the long-term position of the arts in the public mind.
Recently, the social good and economic impact arguments may have begun to wear thin, and government support has not recovered from sharp cuts made in the last few years. At the same time, much of the arts community is so focused on bottom lines that some argue that in some cases art and creativity have suffered in the struggle to grow and keep up. Indeed, some might argue that basing so much of the case for the arts on economic benefits has made it more difficult to make a compelling case for the arts.
"Has the emphasis on practical benefits warped our arts infrastructure, and caused us to neglect the need to strengthen demand for the arts? Have we neglected what "Gifts of the Muse" terms the "missing link": the individual, private experience of the arts that begins with early engagement and intense involvement, and that is the gateway to other, more public benefits? Is there a better case to be made for the arts?
During the week of March 7-11, 2005, we've asked 11 prominent arts people to participate in a group blog on this question. Sponsored by The Wallace Foundation, the blog is the part of what is hoped will be a national conversation about making compelling cases for the arts. Readers are encouraged to participate by clicking the "comments" link at the end of any blog post. To see all readers' posts, go to:http://www.artsjournal.com/muse/comments.php
To contact Douglas McLennan, the moderator of this blog, please send your email to: firstname.lastname@example.org