Art Works!

by Sharon Amdall

Art works to improve education, drive creativity in the workplace, bolster the economy, and enrich communities.

For many, the arts are seen as a luxury—a “nice to have” that can be eliminated with no real damage. But the arts can deliver very real benefits to our children, businesses, economy and communities.

The Arts in Education
Our children are our future, and of course, we want them to succeed in many ways. For the purpose of this discussion, we will focus on the success of our children in preparing for jobs in adulthood, a large part of which stems from success in school.

We know that math, science and language skills are important for the 21st-century workforce, and therefore, some conclude that when something must be cut from education, the arts should be cut in favor of these courses. But paradoxically, studies show that one of the best ways to help children succeed in math, science and language skills is to educate them in the arts—and the positive results are most pronounced in students at highest risk.

One such study, The Arts and Achievement in At-Risk Youth, released last year by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), examined records of at-risk youth (defined as low socio-economic status) from four studies that tracked them over many years and found that those who had arts education achieved better academic results and workforce opportunities than those who did not. Other studies have also shown that education in the arts helps students succeed.

As reported in Edutopia, Eric Cooper, president of the National Urban Alliance for Effective Education, said, “Arts education enables those children from a financially challenged background to have a more level playing field with children who have had those enrichment experiences.” Tom Horne, Arizona’s former superintendent of public instruction, agreed. “There’s lots of evidence that kids immersed in the arts do better on their academic tests.”

How can this be? Studies indicate that the arts help students succeed in non-arts subjects such as math and science because they learn life skills through studying the arts. An article from Americans for the Arts suggests that students learn creativity, confidence, problem solving, perseverance, collaboration, focus and other skills that benefit all their endeavors from education in the arts.

The Arts in Business
The creativity that arts education helps to develop in students will serve them well as they enter the workforce. As found in the TIME Creativity Poll in April 2013, 81 percent of employees report that their employers value creativity in the workplace. Furthermore, when IBM interviewed more than 1,500 CEOs, it found that most of them believe creativity is the most important leadership quality. In 2007, the Business Committee for the Arts (a division of Americans for the Arts) honored The Boeing Company for its “exceptional involvement with the arts that enrich the workplace, education and the community.” They quoted W. James McNerney, Jr., Boeing’s chairman, president and CEO, who said, “The arts inspire innovation by leading us to open our minds and think in new ways about our lives—including the work we do, the way we work, and the customers we serve.”

Even in technical fields, the arts can be the key to high performance. For example, the Scientist Project followed young scientists for decades through their careers and found that those who achieved high levels of success (e.g. Nobel prizes, patents) enjoyed arts and crafts hobbies to a much greater degree. One contribution from arts and crafts was to strengthen the scientists’ mental “tools” used in problem solving, such as visual imaging. As Max Planck, winner of the Nobel Prize in physics and a gifted musician, wrote, “The creative scientist needs an artistic imagination.”

The Arts in the Economy
In addition to the competitive benefits businesses receive from employing a creative and innovative workforce, the economy benefits directly from the arts. Americans for the Arts recently conducted a study to document the economic impact of the nonprofit arts and culture industry in the U.S. In our region, ArtsPartners was the leader in working with them and Arts Alliance Illinois to gather the data. According to the results, nonprofit arts and culture organizations and their audiences deliver $20.4 million in annual spending in the Greater Peoria area, including $2.2 million in local and state government revenue. (Note that this is limited only to nonprofit arts organizations.)

Measuring the economic benefits of arts and culture organizations is difficult, and multiple studies can show different results based on different definitions and scope, but the economic benefits are real. To better understand the economic benefits, let’s examine the impact of a single event, the Peoria Art Guild’s Fine Art Fair, now in its 51st year.

In 2013, the Fine Art Fair featured more than 150 local, national and international visual artists from 26 states, Canada, Argentina and Israel, attracting about 30,000 attendees. Some of the economic benefits are easy to measure, such as the direct spending by the Peoria Art Guild for the show (for advertising, etc.). But other benefits are more difficult to measure, such as determining exactly how many hotel rooms were occupied by artists and attendees. The Peoria Art Guild has partnered with the Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau to assess the benefits as accurately as possible. Beth Reusch, the Guild’s executive director, said, “When we combine all expenses with the revenue generated at the Fine Art Fair, as well as estimated hotel rooms and restaurant impact and other data, we estimate the overall economic impact to the Peoria area is $1.2 million. We are proud of the wonderful art exhibited at the Fine Art Fair for 51 years, as well the economic benefits we bring to this area.”

Many people think of professional artists as hobbyists, but the reality is that most are small business owners operating in a very competitive industry. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, small businesses make up 64 percent of net new private-sector jobs—a plus for any economy.

Measuring and understanding the economic benefits from the arts continues to be difficult, but we can expect improved metrics in the future. As of November 2012, the NEA and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis are working together to measure the economic benefits of the arts on the U.S. economy, with results expected in 2014.

The Arts in Communities
Finally, the arts benefit our communities tremendously by making them enjoyable, vibrant places to live, work and relax. In the recent BCA National Survey of Business Support for the Arts, businesses that contributed to the arts cited two important reasons for doing so: the arts improve the quality of life in the community, and the arts help create a vibrant community and society. Many businesses recognize that the benefits provided by the arts make it easier to recruit and retain excellent employees in their communities.

The PNC Financial Services Group, named one of the 2013 Best Businesses Partnering with the Arts in America by the Business Council for the Arts, supports the arts through grants, employee volunteerism, partnerships and board membership. “PNC’s commitment to supporting the arts is truly an investment that delivers a valuable return to our communities by enriching lives and contributing to the economic vitality of the region,” said Doug Stewart, PNC Bank regional president for central Illinois.

Could we even imagine our communities without the arts? Imagine a community with no musical performances (indoors or outdoors, bluegrass or Broadway), with no community theater, with no framed photographs decorating the inside walls of businesses, with no creative signage to inform us, with no pleasing architectural building designs, with no exhibits of our children’s paintings (such as those hosted by the Contemporary Art Center and Prairie Center of the Arts), with no music in restaurants, with no beautiful ceramics or pottery, with no singing, with no charming quilts, etc. It would be a drab, dreary place to live.

“The arts make our communities more livable and vibrant places,” concluded Ra Joy, Arts Alliance Illinois executive director. “Arts, culture and creative expression fuel innovation and creativity, sharpen the state’s competitive edge, help attract and retain talent, promote cross-cultural understanding, and connect Illinois nationally and globally.”

In brief, the arts can deliver real benefits to our children by helping them succeed in school and the workforce, to businesses in helping them innovate, to the economy, and to our communities in making them more attractive places to live, work and relax. iBi

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