What is the Value of the Arts to the Public?

September 9, 2009

By Wendy Liscow, Program Officer


My mama frequently said, “It could always be worse.”  That advice was little consolation to the Arts Community when the New Jersey State Council on the Arts announced in July a 25% cut in their 2010  fiscal year grants.  Although not a surprise to the Arts community, the state cut, combined with other cuts in giving from foundations (including Dodge) and corporations, means even more challenging times lie ahead for cultural organizations.  I worry that my mama’s prediction will come true next year as government budgets continue to shrink and the demand for basic services grows.  It is during these times that it is even more important to make the case for supporting the Arts.  The reasons abound. 

Miami Herald writer Jordan Levin recently wrote a passionate op-ed piece in response to Florida’s arts funding being cut from $34 million in 2007 to $3 million this year and the resultant shuttering of arts companies.  Levin made a cogent defense for public funding of the Arts especially during difficult economic times – a case that applies not just to Miami, but to the entire nation.

When I am making the case for the Arts, I often find myself being pulled between two approaches.  Do I talk about what I personally value about the Arts, or do I assume the point of view of other potential stakeholders?  Strategic communications experts would teach that you have to discover what matters most to people and then approach them from a perspective of what they value.

Indeed the case for the investing in the Arts can be made from many perspectives:

A business person will be moved by the economic case. According to a 2007 survey, the nonprofit arts in New Jersey is a 1.2 billion dollar industry and supports 17,000 arts-related businesses which employ over 77,000 people.  New Jersey’s 800 nonprofit arts organizations are attended by over 18 million people!

A parent or teacher will champion the arts because of the educational benefits. Studies show that arts help prepare young people for the 21st century workplace by developing critical and integrative thinking, as well as teamwork, self-confidence and self-discipline.

Health workers and anyone facing a chronic illness or surgery will be influenced by the community wellness case. Clinical studies show that participating in arts activities shortens post-operative recovery and hospital stays, and reduces anxiety, depression and doctor visits.

State government leadership must recognize the importance the arts play in tourism, one of the key industries in our state. Mayors care about the restaurants, printing shops, and advertising agencies that thrive in their towns when the “lights are blazing” at cultural institutions.  Every dollar spent by an arts organization generates eight dollars in the local economy.

Realtors and homeowners will care about the appeal a vibrant cultural environment has for prospective home buyers. In this housing market, people continue to be drawn to the expansive creative culture that few states can match.

Then there are people like Jaimie Cloud of the Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education who believes that artists are creating the new narratives that will help us imagine, and then create, a more sustainable world. She recognizes that artists and the arts reflect back to us where we’ve been, where we are and where we want to go.

Together we are indeed creating a new narrative for the Arts in NJ.  Now is the time to champion the public value of the arts.  It is time for New Jerseyans to rally around Creativity in general and the Arts in particular.  There are four ways you can make your own personal statement:


ONE:  Endorse Arts Plan: Go to the Arts Plan website and find out what hundreds of arts leaders and community members believe is a working plan to make arts a vibrant player in New Jersey.


TWO:  Join ArtPride, New Jersey’s arts and history advocacy agency and share your story. Becoming a member helps Artpride tell the story of New Jersey’s cultural impact.  And while you are at it, help ArtPride build their story collection by telling them how and when the arts have touched your life.  They want to hear from arts practitioners, arts lovers, teachers, business men, and politicians.  And if you work in the Arts, Artpride is tracking what is and has been lost as a result of funding cutbacks and they are hoping you will send a quick email to artpride@artpridenj.com or call (609-479-3377, ext. 307) with your story.  This information will be extremely helpful as the ongoing advocacy strategy evolves.

Americans for the Arts header_logo

THREE:  Share your stories with Americans for the Arts Animating Democracy program which is working with the American Public Media’s   Public Insights Network project to show “how creativity can be a call to action.”

FOUR: Visit your local arts organization and know that every dollar spent is stimulating 8 times the amount for our economy.

One, two, three and four.  Four easy and utterly vital steps, and we are on our way to raising awareness of the public value of the arts.

Are you on Twitter? Dodge wants to connect with you. Follow us @grdodge.