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Is there a Better Case for the Arts?
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March 07, 2005

Common Sense

I am always amused by arguments for or against the instrumental value of the arts. Arts organizations in this country have learned to survive by making their case to mostly private and occasionally public sources of funding. They have used almost every argument imaginable and have been surprisingly effective at developing new strategies when necessary.

The Rand report’s suggestion that arts organizations need to concentrate on articulating the intrinsic value of the arts misses the point—the funding organizations to whom these arguments are being made need to change their criteria, not the arts organizations. Like anyone involved in the arts, I believe fundamentally in their intrinsic value and would argue that any other value that can be attributed to them is secondary and, ultimately, not all that interesting.

Successful arts organizations know that their success depends on the daring and quality of their efforts, in their ability to differentiate themselves from similar organizations, and to galvanize their audience’s belief in their importance. Common sense suggests that the instrumental value of the arts is in direct proportion to their intrinsic value and the greater the former the more significant the latter. But if arts organizations can and should work to be appreciated and understood for the quality of their programs and the value of their mission--it is naïve to assume that in a world that makes most of its decisions on instrumental values, funding organizations (either public or private) are suddenly going to make exceptions for arts organizations.

The culture wars for all of their divisiveness and destruction taught arts organizations how to compete in a hostile environment, to use the same tactics that other groups have deployed in order to convince those in power to support them, even when their activities seemed antithetical to prevailing times. This may have been a tough and unpleasant lesson but is has been well learned and we would do well not to forget it in an effort to be recognized for the values we believe in most.

Posted by glowry at March 7, 2005 06:59 PM


"I believe fundamentally in [the arts'] intrinsic value and would argue that any other value that can be attributed to them is secondary and, ultimately, not all that interesting."

Glory hallelujah. I agree completely, but I'm an artist. Do the funding organizations feel this way? And if not, what would convince them to change their criteria as per paragraph #2 above?

Posted by: Franklin Einspruch at March 7, 2005 08:28 PM

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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
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