In last week’s blog I relayed the story of attending a presentation by Randy Cohen of Americans for the Arts in Amsterdam and how it got me thinking about economic impact studies and arguments. (Thanks to all who posted comments.) In response to Cohen’s assertions that economic impact arguments are the only ones that seem to work with most politicians in the US these days, Arjo Klamer (the Chair of Cultural Economics at Erasmus University) raised his hand and said (and I’m paraphrasing from memory): Economic impact arguments are the only ones that work because they are the arguments you have been making. I would encourage you to work on strengthening your arguments for the cultural and social values of the arts.
Cohen responded saying that, of course, Americans for the Arts also makes intrinsic value arguments with the audiences for whom such arguments work (which is, evidently, not politicians). At one point, he made the analogy of a bow and a bag of arrows and recommended using whichever arrow (argument) will get the job done in a given situation.
Practically speaking, I get the “use the arrow that works” analogy. In point of fact, I was on a working group at a Salzburg Seminar this past February, Session 468—The Performing Arts in Lean Times, whose task was to discuss how to make more effective arguments for the arts. (BTW, you can access the full report on Salzburg Session 468 here.) Our working group concluded something similar: there is no silver bullet argument; thus, make the argument that works in a given situation.
However, I’ve recently been thinking about the relationship between the practical and the principled response and pondering whether practical and principled arguments can, indeed, live side-by-side in the same arrow bag and be used as suits the situation, or whether, over time, practical arguments undermine the efficacy of principled arguments?
More to the point, if (for practical reasons) I make the case to a politician (who only wants to hear about the numbers) that the arts should be supported primarily because they create jobs for arts administrators, waiters, and babysitters, or because they bring tourist dollars to the city, have I not, in essence, forsaken the principle that the arts have inherent value and should be supported for that value?
Photo of Julius Henry “Groucho” Marx is unattributed and in the public domain, and available at the Wikimedia Commons/Wikipedia.