“Art hasn’t been accorded its proper role in American society.  It has been compartmentalized as some category of life… like art is outside the box.  It is not some category of life; it is how we celebrate life.” These words, powerfully spoken by art educator Paul Cummings in a recent PBS special, “Arts & the Mind,” resonated with me on many levels. I believe the arts are essential to the human spirit; they feed souls and enrich lives. In addition, the power of the arts to unite and inspire makes them a vital part of the non-profit world.

A Good Investment

Support for the arts comes back tenfold in what the arts provide to a community and its citizens. An investment in the arts produces broad results that support the quality of life and health of our citizens, the development of creative thinking, and the economic viability of our communities. In the last few years, quantifying the economic benefits has been important on national and state levels, and many studies have shown the positive impact the arts have on economies at all different levels.

Many results simply cannot be quantified, given the immense contribution that the arts can have. Instead, these effects are evident in the lives of our citizens, our children, and our communities. Whether you are painting, dancing, hearing or singing music, performing in a play, or reciting poetry, studies show that the arts have a positive impact on the brain, regardless of a person’s age. Additionally, their ability to foster a sense of community makes the arts invaluable for cultural, educational, social, and economic development.

Unity through Art

The arts create a sense of place in a community, bringing people together like nothing else. In the essay, “Community-Based Arts Organizations: A New Center of Gravity,” Ron Chew said: “Art can be about more than engaging in an aesthetic experience. Art can also comfort in times of trouble, heal personal wounds, inspire community participation and foster a more compassionate society.”

The arts are nonpartisan. In a world where much emphasis is placed on our differences, the arts are a powerful, unifying force — encouraging accessibility by all. At the heart of arts initiatives today is an inclusive philosophy, inviting all who want to participate to be a part of something that can bring joy, pleasure, appreciation, inspiration, an interest in lifelong learning, and participation.

One national example is an initiative by The Metropolitan Opera to broaden its audience through “The Met, Live in HD.” The series brings live performances to movie theaters across the nation – and the world. More than three million people viewed last season’s performances, which had a great impact on audience exposure, development, and appreciation for opera in cities where opera is rarely performed or supported.

A regional example of audience development and inclusiveness is Crystal Bridges Museum of Modern Art in Bentonville, Ark.  There is no cost for general admission to view the museum’s extensive permanent collection because of support provided by Wal-Mart. Guests are invited to learn about art and history as they celebrate the artists that have shaped America.

Locally, in Joplin, Mo., the arts are thriving in the non-profit and for-profit sectors. Accessibility and audience development are part of the missions of numerous local arts organizations, including non-profits such as Spiva Center for the Arts, Pro Musica, Joplin Little Theatre, Heartland Opera and Art Feeds, as well as for-profits such as Local Color Gallery and Phoenix Fired Art.

Economic Impact

The arts foster innovation, entrepreneurship, and fresh thinking — all vital components for a thriving economy. In fact, according to the National Governors Association, “Arts, culture and design can assist states with economic growth because they can serve the following roles:

  • Provide a fast-growth, dynamic industry cluster;
  • Help mature industries become more competitive;
  • Provide the critical ingredients for innovative places;
  • Catalyze community revitalization; and
  • Deliver a better-prepared workforce.”

In addition, the arts can be a powerful force for new business. They attract and maintain businesses that appreciate a creative community that provides cultural amenities. Usually, these creative communities attract similarly creative businesses, which are critical in both the non- and for-profit sectors.

To me, the arts are more than just a passion: they are my commitment and my priority. I believe they add tremendous value and service by contributing cultural depth, fostering understanding, encouraging unity, and supporting economic growth. These values are especially important to non-profits, which are intrinsically tied to the people that make up their communities. By supporting and promoting the arts, we help people not only live their lives, but also celebrate them — together.

Photo credit: http://northshorekid.com