Guest Post: Arts Education as an Economic Development Imperative (Part 1)

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


Recently I spoke at a reception for the Philadelphia region music education organization Musicopia. Because so many other speakers were already attesting to the value of their work, I decided I would focus on the larger issue of the value of arts education, with specific emphasis on what sorts of direct impact on a community quality arts education provides. To me, and to those of us in the field, this information, this perspective, may seem self-evident. But to many, this may not be the case. Given Lorene’s (and Art Sanctuary’s) extraordinary commitment to the role that the arts – including literature – can have on the lives of our young people, I thought it would be appropriate to share my thoughts on the subject with you.

Arts education is a crucial civic imperative for an array of reasons, none of which undercut its importance simply as a human right for young people to have the benefit of the arts as part of their educational experience, not just at home (where they may or may not get it) but at school as well.

But why should a funder, a legislator, a business-person care about arts education, especially in these challenging economic times when it can seem like a frill?

Quality arts education has an array of positive social benefits, that translate directly to positive economic benefits. First, there is the area of workforce development. A 21st century economy needs a certain kind of worker. This is NOT just a worker who has done well on standardized tests and is competent in math and English. This is a worker who is strong in so-called “applied” (as opposed to “basic”) skills. A young person who is strong in collaboration and teamwork, strong in communication and self-expression, understanding of ambiguity and nuance (it is not a rote, hierarchical, assembly line world anymore; in today’s world there is often no “right:” answer – just the best course of action with the information available). These are skills that we KNOW arts education develops. A study done a few years ago by the Conference Board, in partnership with a number of workforce development organizations, called “Are They Really Ready to Work,” showed that employers felt that their incoming workers were very poorly prepared in these applied skills, but that they rated the applied skills as the most critically important workforce skills that they needed. A follow up report called “Ready to Innovate“- conducted by the Conference Board in partnership with Americans for the Arts and the American Association of School Administrators – looked at how the views of employers aligned with those of school district leaders. It found a truly overwhelming – nearly unanimous – agreement among both the hirers and the educators that creativity was an increasingly important workplace skill. Those doing the hiring, however, found that they largely cannot find the creative workers they seek.

Both employers and educators rate arts study as a very high indicator of creativity (#1 for educators, #2 for business just behind entrepreneurial experience). A recent study by IBM found that creativity was rated as the most important skill for future success as a CEO. I remember speaking at a conference with a very senior executive from a large food service company, who indicated that their HR team found engagement in arts education and arts practice as being the best indicator of success in the workplace – not just for executives and managers, but all the way down to entry-level waitstaff, kitchen workers, etc. They found that workers who played an instrument, acted in plays or were otherwise engaged in the arts were better members of their team, stayed in their job longer, were more productive, and were better at customer service.


Tomorrow, Steuer will post part 2 of ‘Arts Education as an Economic Development Imperative’ and discuss how arts engagement has produced positive results in our city of Philadelphia.


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

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