Monday, November 12, 2012

The case for the arts

In this era of shrinking budgets, slashing funds for arts education, and threats to arts grants, we are reminded that in the public-policy arena, the arts are still often seen as a luxury. A frivolity.

Those of us who know better argue that the arts provide something essential to human beings, that creative expression helps us cope with life's big questions and challenges. That the arts reach many students in a way that math and science can't always do.

But you can't quantify that value, which means that policy-makers still find it easy to dismiss. So for those looking for another way to make the case, I recommend Wendy Wasserstein's essay, "The State of the Arts" (which appears in the collection Shiksa Goddess), in which she includes an economic case for funding the arts:

"Nonprofit arts institutions are often pioneers in urban revival. The 'new' Forty-Second Street--the Disney-restored theaters and entertainment malls--would not be there today if the arts organizations sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and local arts councils had not taken the initiative to change the urban landscape."

"Nonprofit arts in America are a thirty-seven-billion-dollar industry."

"I mentioned that I had won a twelve-thousand-dollar grant in 1984, which had aided me in completing The Heidi Chronicles. In my mind, that's a small investment for a play that ran on Broadway for two years, toured the country for two years, and kept many people employed and inner cities lively."

The places we live would be poorer, spiritually and financially, without our art museums, theaters, bookstores, libraries, galleries, dance studios, and concert halls. These places provide employment for many and entertainment for many more; they provide emotional nourishment and a richness to our communities.


  1. I am lucky to live in a community where the art programs aren't being cut. The taxes I pay are high here, but I see the benefit. My children will enjoy their benefits too.

  2. I live in an arts-poor city, unfortunately, but SLC is nearby and does better at it. I hate that I get iffy looks sometimes from people when I say I'm an author. Like I'm not contributing anything to society with all the time I spend on writing books.

    1. There's a fun aspect to writing, but people sometimes think that's all there is to it. While we know there is so much more!