Why Public Funding for the Arts Matters
We’ve just completed our legislative session in Oklahoma. Two efforts to provide state funding for an Oklahoma popular culture museum and an Oklahoma Native American cultural center were deferred for consideration because of the recent devastating tornados and their aftermath. An effort to move the Oklahoma Arts Council under the jurisdiction of the Oklahoma State Department of Tourism was fortunately averted.
However, these initiatives point to a much larger issue – a general misunderstanding of the power of the arts as an agent of economic development and a disregard for the importance of the arts in education.
And Oklahoma is not alone. Most states have seen budgets for state arts agencies reduced significantly or in some cases eliminated. And I’m not really blaming legislators for this apparent lack of understanding about the importance of the arts and public funding for them. Many of our state legislators didn’t grow up with arts experiences and field trips to museums and visits to the symphony. We’ve lost almost two generations of adults who received regular arts experiences from Kindergarten through 12th Grade.
What we’ve gained over the past 30 years, however, is a tremendous amount of research that demonstrates what the arts do for children. Visit www.artsusa.org for detailed information. Young people who consistently participate in comprehensive, sequential, and rigorous arts programs are:
- 4 times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement
- 3 times more likely to be elected to class office within their schools
- 4 times more likely to participate in a math and science fair
- 3 times more likely to win an award for school attendance
- 4 times more likely to win an award for writing an essay or poem
We also have research clearly demonstrating that these same students have improved scores on ACT and SAT tests; that they are more likely to attend and graduate from college; and that they develop greater analytical and critical-thinking skills – an essential requirement for the 21st Century workforce.
So, why would there be any question that there should be public funding for the arts? A better-educated workforce would certainly benefit society. We fund education and consider it a right of every individual to receive one. So why not include a strong arts component within our educational system?
So often the arts are seen as “fluff” or something “extra.” The argument is that the arts are a luxury – and simply not as important as math or reading. In reality, the arts amplify what students are able to absorb academically. Students do better in academic subjects when they have a regular infusion of the arts. Consequently, supporting public funding for the arts simply makes good sense. Society will ultimately benefit.
So often the argument is made that private funds can and should support the arts. If people want a symphony or a museum or anything arts related, they can support it without using taxpayer dollars. And certainly, private donors do support the arts. But the larger issue is that most arts organizations also provide arts education opportunities. And private donors support those as well. But if the arts are an important aspect of education, as the research shows, why shouldn’t taxpayer dollars also support the arts as part of the educational system?
When it comes to public funding priorities, there are certainly many…healthcare, roads, public safety…the list is endless. However, we must all work together to keep public funding for the arts at the top of budgeting priorities. If we are concerned about education and the future of our country, we have to make public funding of the arts a key focus. We have the research to prove the importance of the arts in education. What we must do now is continue to make our case heard – loud and clear. We won’t change perceptions overnight, but if we continue to present the facts, we will make progress – and society will be the better for it.