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Turn away funding for arts and suffer a deficit of spirit

Jan 6, 2003  •  Post A Comment

“Education, medicine, museums and theaters-that’s the core of civilization of any city.”-Mayor Richard M. Daley

The word is going out from the Blagojevich compound: Only those who can help generate new revenue need apply for a piece of what’s left of the rapidly shrinking Springfield pie. There will be few new line items in 2003. And, even to keep funding at 2002 levels, the cause will have to be truly just, the need sharply defined.

How do the arts stack up in such an equation? There is mounting evidence that we can’t be a healthy, wealthy, well-educated or even happy state without supporting the arts. Chicago’s mayor voiced support for the arts in the quote above in 1998. In the years since, evidence has grown to support his claim.

Since it’s money the new governor will be looking for, Rod Blagojevich should know the arts are a $1-billion-plus industry in Illinois. The exact amount will be revealed in a study soon to be completed by the Illinois Arts Alliance. It’ll also report the number of jobs in the arts and number of people who attend arts events statewide. (Hint: It’s more than the number who attend sporting events.) Financial incentives for supporting the arts are also found in studies that show their power as a catalyst for housing and new business development.

But there’s more to life than that, and far more to the arts.

The arts build character and promote academic achievement.

A U.S. Department of Justice study documents a sharp drop in delinquent behavior among teens involved in the arts. Researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles have found that students involved in theater are 40% more likely than non-arts students to interact with other racial groups and 40% less likely to endorse racist remarks and attitudes.

A 10-year Carnegie Foundation study concludes that young people participating in arts programs are four times more likely to participate in a math and science fair and are elected to class office within their schools more than three times as often as teens not in similar programs. Scores of studies corroborate these findings and document higher grades and standardized test scores in all areas-including math and reading-for students exposed to the arts.

In the most fundamental ways, the arts change lives. The American Art Therapy Assn. confirms the healing power of the arts for everyone from cancer patients to pregnant women. The bottom line, as reported in the British Medical Journal: People who attend cultural events are about 36% more likely to outlive neighbors who do not.

When arts advocates made the rounds in Springfield last spring, many lawmakers met us with helpless shrugs. “What are we supposed to do, fund the arts instead of. . . ?” (Fill in the blank with your favorite must-have.)

Some consider it leadership to pit the needy against each other. But a true leader has the vision to see the quality of life as much as life itself.

Consider Winston Churchill, who reportedly was asked to close London’s theaters, museums and concert halls to husband resources for the war effort. His response: “Good God, man, then what are we fighting for?”

Marj Halperin (marj@chicagoplays.com) is executive director of the League of Chicago Theatres.