“The arts are under attack!” We hear this cry on a consistent basis as state and local governments wrestle with priorities to balance budgets. The arts always seem to be the first on the chopping block. Detroit continues to face seemingly insurmountable challenges, and one of the suggestions for how to raise capital to satisfy creditors is to sell off the outstanding art collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts.
Selling the DIA’s collection is only a short-term fix, that doesn’t actually alleviate the problem at all. It’s more for showmanship. It’s a statement that we can live without the arts. They are only important if they can be sold to raise money.
What is so often missed or overlooked by legislators is that the arts ARE all about the economy. Cultural tourism is a $400 billion industry in this country. Visitors travel to Detroit to visit the DIA – they stay in hotels, eat in restaurants, visit the DIA and other cultural attractions, purchase gifts, etc. All of this economic activity brings money into the Detroit economy – it creates jobs, both directly arts related and ancillary. Sales tax, and hotel and motel taxes are generated. These funds support the infrastructure of the city. Without this activity, there is no city.
Tulsa is facing similar challenges in terms of valuing the arts and seeing them more than line items to be cut. As Michael Kaiser, President of the John. F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts has often reminded people, “You cannot save your way to prosperity.” It’s good to be prudent – and extract every ounce of possibility from every dollar spent – but cuts in funding only go so far. You have to invest in the arts and in arts education if they are going to make an impact on your community.
When I ask the question, “Is there a future for arts education?,” I guess I’m really asking how is that future going to look if we continually undervalue the arts and don’t provide the necessary infrastructure in our cities that demonstrate clearly that the arts are important and critical to our success. If we continue reducing funding for arts education in our schools, we tell people that the arts are not really important – that they don’t have value. It’s hard to convince legislators that may not have had much arts education because of previous cuts in funding that the arts matter when they are constantly being targeted.
As a society, we need to stand up and be counted – and communicate the value of arts and arts education to our local and state governments. When the arts have value beyond budget line items, then we will be on the right path for arts education funding that will change our society for the better.