Susan Schmelzer on Arts Policy: Honk If You Support the Arts!

Americans for the Arts
Americans for the Arts

Bumper stickers are that uniquely American literary medium with which we express our most deeply held convictions—on the rear end of our vehicles! They amuse, disgust, and occasionally inspire. Yet, as with letters to the editor and horoscopes, it’s the rare gems that keep us reading!

Have you ever seen a bumper sticker opposing the arts?  Everyone loves art, right?  In all likelihood you haven’t observed a political candidate opposing the arts either (although politicians have been known to oppose funding the arts); but, have you ever heard a political candidate pledge to support the arts?  It’s a rare occurrence indeed.

Philosophers, theologians, anthropologists, and behavioral scientists have long extolled the role of music, theater, visual arts and dance in human development and coexistence. Accordingly, somewhere between Ancient Egypt and Modern Kansas, lies a reasonable expectation of what a government’s role should be in preserving and fostering arts.  (Kansas closed down its Arts Council in 2011 and ranks last among the states in funding of the arts—woefully inadequate.)  Public support for the arts isn’t radical by today’s political standards, which in itself, contributes to its neglect!  But a lack of voter awareness, along with pressure from large campaign contributors who keep them in office, inspire legislators to redirect funds toward more “urgent” issues, that fill the news cycles ad nauseam.

Consequently, public support is only 9% of nonprofit arts organizations’ budgets; and to make matters worse, government grant funding is not keeping up with inflation, resulting in a worsening imbalance that threatens their financial stability.  Why should government at all levels do a better job of funding the arts?

Arts strengthen the economy.

The arts contributed over $698 billion to the U.S. economy last year, according to data compiled by Americans for the Arts.  Locally, arts industry expenditures in Metropolitan Kansas City totaled $273 million.  Add to that over 6,000 full-time equivalent jobs, non-admission expenditures in excess of $69 million, plus the local taxes collected.  In the state of Kansas, the arts add $153.5 million to the state economy, from which $9 million in tax revenue is collected per year.  Missouri arts generate a $1.1 billion contribution to the state economy each year.  Enough said already.  The arts mean business!

Arts unite communities.

The arts have the power to cross cultural and economic boundaries and ignite the common spirit of a community.  How cool was it that Arts KC sponsored “Arts Night at the K” in September?  The Royals organization saluted “the common ability of arts and sports to entertain, educate and touch lives.”  (By the way, if you have somehow never witnessed the combination of an Alcides Escobar throw and Eric Hosmer catch, you don’t really know ballet!)

When 50,000 people, of all ethnicities, ages and religions converge for the Kansas City Symphony’s ”Celebration at the Station” lawn party each Memorial Day, we’re drawn by what we have in common. The arts simply overpower much of what seems to divide us as Americans and Kansas Citians.

The arts promote health.

The physiological benefits of music and visual arts are established science now, and research is constantly demonstrating new uses of arts in healing and preventing illness. Findings suggest that just standing before a work of visual art or listening to music can alleviate stress and anxiety.  Nearly half of hospitals engage the arts to bring about shorter hospital stays, better pain management and less medication.  Art and music therapy are employed by the military and in the treatment of post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Arts education contributes to personal success. 

Often the first things to be cut when school funding is decreased are art and music.  Yet, according to the Missouri Alliance for Arts Education, schools with higher levels of student participation in the arts have demonstrated better attendance, lower dropout rates, more leadership participation and even higher math and science scores on standardized tests.

Creativity and innovation are the most rapidly rising skills sought by 21st-century business and technology employers as they search for alternatives to the standard business school curriculum.  In the words of Steve Jobs, “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough— it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing.”

With these reasons to invest in the arts, why do politicians continue to deal loose and free with funding?  They believe that those who support the arts just don’t pay attention.  It is time to change their perception once and for all.

Join me in staying abreast of arts issues by visiting websites for the major arts policy advocacy organizations listed below who provide timely help on how and when to contact our legislators.  They make it so easy!

Missouri Citizens for the Arts
Kansas Citizens for the Arts
Americans for the Arts
National Arts Education Association

Perhaps it takes a good bumper sticker to defend arts funding.  You can claim a free one if you like at standforthearts.com.  I’ll spot you in passing and give a friendly honk!

Susan Schmelzer

Susan Schmelzer is a community activist who has served in leadership roles on several boards, currently including the Executive Committee of Missourians Citizens for the Arts, which advocates for state arts funding. Her devotion to the arts began as a vocal music major, while her professional background spans careers in higher education and nonprofit consulting.

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