Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Value of Art Education

This may be a particularly apropos time for a diary on this topic. This very week The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation joined forces with The Broad Foundation and announced a $60 million political style campaign for Strong American Schools called Ed in 08.

In Florida, my home state, the combination of rising property insurance premiums and property tax increases is driving the state legislature towards draconian changes in the tax system. The major target is property taxes which are the only source of revenue for local school funding requirements and the major source of revenue for local governments. The state legislature's well intended efforts to provide much needed relief to property owners are about to have some very severe unintended consequences for the quality of life here in Florida.

Caught squarely in the headlights of those unintended consequences are the arts and art education. The arts are always high on the list of the first place to cut funding in times like these. Follow me below the fold to examine why this is precisely the wrong place to start cutting.

My good friend Alonewolf , has heard more than enough about workforce training. As the CEO of an innovative high tech company, he worries about creating the next generation of leaders and creative thinkers. "Workforce Training" makes him think of the 1984 Apple Super Bowl commercial with the suited automatons marching over the cliff. At a recent "Regional Leadership Breakfast" in St. Petersburg, the topic was "Education in Florida". There were several comments and questions about "workforce training." But at this "leadership" breakfast, no one seemed to much care about leadership training.

New Horizons for Learning provides a terrific resource for the value of arts in education. Their prologue states in part:

Today it is recognized that to be truly well educated one must not only learn to appreciate the arts, but must have rich opportunities to actively participate in creative work. The arts are languages that most people speak, cutting through individual differences in culture, educational background, and ability. They can bring every subject to life and turn abstractions into concrete reality. Learning through the arts often results in greater academic achievement and higher test scores.

In Why are the Arts Important?, Dee Dickinson provides a 15 point checklist. Here are my favorites from that list:

They improve academic achievement -- enhancing test scores, attitudes, social skills, critical and creative thinking.

They exercise and develop higher order thinking skills including analysis, synthesis, evaluation, and "problem-finding."

They provide the means for every student to learn.

To my way of thinking, that should be enough to end this diary right here. But not every decision maker is influenced solely by these factors. So here is something decision makers do understand - $$$$$$.

The Economic Impact of Florida’s Arts and Cultural Industry released by the Florida Cultural Alliance in January 2004 is a study by Dr. William Stronge of Florida Atlantic University. The study is based on fiscal year 2001. Some highlights are:

Florida’s arts and cultural industry is one of the fastest growing in the state. Its annual statewide economic impact has grown from $1.7 billion in 1997 to over $2.9 billion and now supports over 28,000 full-time equivalent jobs. (That is $104 thousand per full time equivalent job!)

Attendees at the programs and events of not-for-profit cultural organizations exceeded 400 million in 2000-01. Audience participation is significant because attendance at these events generates related commerce for local businesses such as hotels, restaurants, and shops.

An estimated 7 million out-of-state tourists visited Florida’s cultural facilities or attended cultural events as a primary activity. These “cultural” tourists spent $4.5 billion, adding $9.3 billion to the state's gross regional product and creating 103,713 full-time equivalent jobs with a payroll of $2.6 billion.

The Florida Department of State has also published a brochure, Return on Investment: Florida's Cultural, Historical and Library Programs which highlights not only the economic impact of the arts but also the impact of our state's historic preservation and libraries.

Any fair reading of these studies leads to but one conclusion. Funding for the arts and art education is the last place that should be cut. Please join with me in letting our legislative and business leaders know that if they want to be leaders in the future and they want Strong American Schools , they need to lead with the arts.

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