I can’t imagine that there is anyone in the Commonwealth more guilty than I of drumming up popular and political support for the arts sector by citing the impact of arts, culture, and creativity on education and economic development.
The statistics are compelling. Nonprofit arts and cultural organizations in Massachusetts support more than 45,000 jobs and spend $2.1 billion annually. Every dollar spent by an arts and cultural organization generates $2.30 in sales for nearby businesses, which results in another $2.5 billion of economic activity.
As for the educational benefits of art, it’s hard to know where to begin. Studies abound showing that arts instruction improves academic performance across all disciplines, keeps troubled students engaged with their schools, and fosters the kind of critical thinking many fear is being stunted amid a growing mania for improving performance on standardized tests. The same holds true for the contributions made to public health and safety by the arts.
I use these statistics all the time in conversations with lawmakers urging them to not just be supporters of the arts, but true champions of the arts. Bottom line, we need to move our description of the arts and culture sector from something that is nice to something that is necessary.
The benefits enjoyed by the Commonwealth that come from the arts and cultural sector are integrally woven into the three areas of discussion that dominate political debate: growing the economy, improving education, and increasing public health and safety. By now, any public policy wonk immersed in these areas understands that art is necessary.
No discussion of education reform would be complete without inclusion of the arts. No serious economic development plan would ignore the arts and cultural sector. (Exhibit A? The revival of the downtowns in cities like Pittsfield, North Adams, Lynn, and Lowell―which would not have happened without the involvement and significant contributions of artists and cultural organizations.) The same holds true for public health and safety.
There are just four weeks left before we elect a new Beacon Hill delegation, along with a new governor on November 4. One question you should be asking when you decide who to support for governor, state representative, and state senator is whether the candidates actually understand that they have no hope of delivering on any of their campaign promises unless arts and culture are a part of the equation.
Matt Wilson is the Executive Director of MASSCreative.