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Is there a Better Case for the Arts?
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: mclennan@artsjournal.com

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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2005 ArtsJournal. All Rights Reserved