Guest Blog: Arts Education as an Economic Development Imperative (Part 2)


We talk about the arts in so many ways. Gary Steuer’s deep and wide command of the research shows why the arts are good for young people, good for business, and good for the mind.  His work as Philadelphia’s Chief Cultural Officer has been extraordinary, and it’s no doubt his training in the arts that has made him succeed so quickly at leading the sector in one of America’s most, let’s just say it, insular cities.

We’ve broken this richly argued and resourced essay into two blogs, so that you can stop, follow the links, and think about the implications. We teach our children to obey and to compete, pretty much, but what will happen to us all if we do not teach them to create? – Lorene

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Part 2 of ‘Arts Education as an Economic Development Imperative’.

In  2009 Dr. James Catterall, a professor at UCLA, released a study “Doing Well and Doing Good by Doing Art,” that followed up 12 years later with 12,000 students studied as part of Champions of Change, an earlier, seminal study of the impact of arts education on youth (also still worthwhile reading!). They found that intensive involvement in the arts in middle and high school is associated with higher levels of achievement and college attainment and also with many indicators of pro-social behavior such as voluntarism and voting. And while they found that intensive involvement in other activities like sports, also had positive outcomes, there were special and stronger results with the arts. In their research they also adjust for socioeconomic differences so they are not just measuring the results of students with more advantages attending wealthier schools more likely to provide arts-rich learning.

And anecdotally, we see this in our own City, Philadelphia, and our own youth. Our Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Everett Gillison, sees that the young people engaged in arts education programs are much less likely to get into trouble, and end up “in the system.” Engagement in the arts by ex-offenders – arts education IS a lifelong learning issue – also significantly reduces recidivism. The dollars that we invest in quality arts education programs are not only helping to enrich the lives of our young, not only developing workers that our businesses needs that will help drive our local economy. They are also frankly getting many young people onto a different path in life that will also save our society and economy significant investments in police and prisons, not to mention potentially event save their lives.

In effect, the same things that arts education produces in young people that makes them better people, happier human beings, also produces a wide array of social and economic benefits that helps our City. Hence the title of Catterall’s study, a play on the “doing well by doing good” philosophy of socially responsible business. The research is clear: investing in arts education is one of the best investments we can possibly make – it builds a 21st century employment-ready workforce that is needed by business; it builds better citizens, more likely to vote and volunteer; it strengthens our communities by producing young people less likely to drop out, less likely to engage in criminal behavior; it makes our schools livelier, engaging, welcoming places of learning, and combined with integrating the arts into other subject areas, fuels the joy of learning and ultimately academic achievement.

In these challenging economic times, education funding and programs are seriously threatened, at the federal level, the state level, and the local level. In this climate, arts education resources are especially at risk, as there is a thoroughly misguided impression that arts education and training in schools is an “extra”, a “frill”, an “amenity” that is OK to invest in when we are flush, but expendable when purse strings are tightened. Perfectly smart people who are all about data, achievement, competitiveness and jobs, somehow have a blind spot when they support disinvestment in arts education – which actually goes against all their principles.

This is not a partisan issue – arts education should be supported by anyone who cares about a future for all of your young people, and anyone who cares about the health of our local and national economy. Shouldn’t that include everyone?

[Note: I know there is much more research out there than the studies I have cited. These are just the studies that came to mind first – this is not an academic paper. Anyone who is interested in more research can go to the Americans for the Arts “Art: Ask for More” advocacy campaign website which has great concise data, and links to other resources. The site has excellent tools for parents, teachers and other advocates for arts education. Another wonderful research is the Arts Education Partnership.

Gary Steuer has headed Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy since 2008. The Office’s mission is to support and promote arts, culture and creative industries, and to develop partnerships and coordinate efforts that weave arts, culture and creativity into the economic and social fabric of the City. As Chief Cultural Officer, he serves as a member of the Mayor’s Cabinet, advising the Mayor and all City agencies on cultural and creative economy issues. Recent major accomplishments including creating the City’s first arts and creative industry-targeted Community Development Block Grant capital funding initiative, completing a new study on Philadelphia’s Creative Vitality, and initiating a new arts and creative economy data mapping project.  Before joining the Nutter administration, Mr. Steuer was the Vice President for Private-Sector Affairs at Americans for the Arts, and had the additional title of Executive Director of the Art and Business Council of Americans for the Arts. He was responsible for leading efforts to stimulate more private sector support for the arts, including promoting partnerships between the arts and business sectors. Mr. Steuer served for ten years as the President and CEO of the Arts & Business Council Inc. before and during its merger with Americans for the Arts. Earlier in his career he was a theatre producer, both in the commercial and nonprofit theatre, served as Capital Funding program director for the New York State Council on the Arts, and was an aide to a United States Congressman. He has written, lectured and taught extensively on arts management and policy issues and has served on many boards of directors and funding and advisory panels for local, statewide and national organizations. He blogs at http://artscultureandcreativeeconomy.blogspot.com

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