Art: It Connects Us and Makes Places Vibrant

Posted by Ms. Margy Waller, Mar 12, 2010 3 comments

This week, hundreds of people met in Providence to discuss “Connecting Creative Communities” in New England.

While there, I had the chance to share our new research with the audience. The response was inspiring. So many people there seemed to recognize the polite head nodding we get when talking about ROI of the arts in dollars and cents. Like us, they also know it isn’t persuasive enough to decision-makers. So, the arts remain a vulnerable policy choice in the public arena.

These New Englanders are as happy as we are to know more about how the public thinks about art and what people value about our art: the vibrancy it brings to our neighborhoods and the way it connects people.

Like me, they struggle with when to talk about art as entertainment and when to avoid that idea. Talking about art as entertainment puts people in a personal, consumer frame of mind – we know now that this is a barrier to thinking about art as a citizen. In the citizen mode, it’s easier to support the arts collectively, as a public good.

So, we discussed the importance of keeping these stories separate.

When we want to promote the value of the arts to everyone – even those who don’t participate by going to concerts or shows – we will focus on stories like how the new theatre on 14th street in Washington DC changed the neighborhood, filling it with people and activity. And how the fringe festival in Cincinnati brings people together from all over the region - people who might not meet under any other circumstances.

Hundreds of interviews in our region provide the proof that this works. Just because art IS entertainment, doesn’t mean we have to always present it that way. When we want to move people to action that supports the arts sector – we should avoid the entertainment lens on the issue. On the other hand, when we are trying to sell tickets, art IS entertainment!

To wrap up this week of important dialog about new strategies for building support for the arts, I’ll share the fun that the New England audience got to see.


This is the video of a surprise public dance my organization put together for our annual community fundraising campaign for the arts.

You’ll notice that we don’t name any arts organizations – we just SHOW how the arts bring people together AND make our city vibrant!

If you want to see the “Making of Splash Dance” video when we release it in a few weeks, sign up for our occasional emails here.

3 responses for Art: It Connects Us and Makes Places Vibrant


March 12, 2010 at 2:13 pm

Good post. I worry a little bit about the vacillation between art as entertainment and art as something else more civic minded. I wonder if such a conscious shift in definitions might play into the stereotype that people in the arts don't really know how to pin down in concrete terms what the arts really represent. But the argument is well made here.

So far, the best defense I have yet read in defense of supporting the arts can be found here You may have read it, but if not, it's a great reference for the future.

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March 12, 2010 at 4:09 pm

Good ideas Margy - see a couple of posts I did on flash mob type art on my blog back in late 09. One of them was at:

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Joseph Futral says
March 12, 2010 at 8:19 pm

I REALLY like everything you've written here so far. The study is so mind blowingly obvious, the simplicity of the approach almost undermines its value. "What? Ask the people we are trying to convince of the value of art what they think of the arts?" It is entirely contrary to the Arts culture that has permeated much of Modernity. Modern art has created such a divide between the artist and the community I almost don't care about art vs Art, much less art vs entertainment. The community and the artist first must engage/re-engage. We can deal with semantics later.


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