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An Investment in the Arts Goes a Long Way

by on May 08, 2018 5:00 AM

The arts are alive and well in Happy Valley. The opportunities we have to immerse ourselves in creativity are pretty darn good for a community of fewer than 100,000 people.

With professional performance venues seating anywhere from 150 to 15,000 people, galleries, museums, a vibrant local music scene, one of the largest and most well-run arts festivals in the country, and an outstanding mélange of relatively modern (from an historical perspective) architectural styles in homes and public buildings, the Centre Region has arts in abundance. As you go around the country you normally find this level of variety only in population centers of a million or more people. In other words, only in cities.

Which is not to say Happy Valley couldn’t use more. We can always use more arts.

But there are many communities around the country of similar size or smaller than ours where arts are not available in multiple forms for the locals to engage in – on a regular, semi-regular or even rare occasion.

Of course, the question for us is, why do we care? And by “us” I mean, not only those of us in Happy Valley, but everyone around the country, some of whom are in similar artistic-nirvana situations as those of us in Centre County. What difference does it make?

Well, there’s the altruistic reason of taking care of others and doing unto them as you would have done unto yourself.

But there’s the American ethos as well – the concept of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. Of giving people the chance to get out of difficult situations by using their own efforts. Of allowing hard work and few barriers to achieve upward social mobility. The American Dream. An ideal. 

And here’s where the arts helps. How do we, as Americans, offer that chance to our countrymen and women to live that dream, to grab for that golden ring?

An excellent way is through allowing everyone to get the best education they can. An education which, it turns out, can be greatly enhanced by the arts. There is much scholarly research which shows the correlation between better education and an involvement in the arts. Get young people involved in the arts – performing, drawing, writing, designing, singing, etc. – and they will surpass their peer groups in every measure of scholastic success.

Among this research, two interesting items stand out for me.

The first was a survey conducted by IBM of 1,500 CEOs that identified creativity as the number one characteristic they look for in their employees. There’s no better way to grow and enhance creativity than through arts education. Want to impress the CEO? Be creative. Want to be creative? Get involved in the arts.

The second was research published by The College Board in 2015 which found that college-bound seniors who had four or more years of arts study in school scored almost 100 points higher on their SATs. And a 100-point difference on the SATs can be the difference between getting into your dream school and attending your safety school.

Want to live the American Dream, be upwardly mobile, get into a good school and get a good job? Get involved in the arts. And how do we make sure there are opportunities to get involved for those who live in communities less privileged than Happy Valley? We make sure that the federal government continues to fund the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

Back in 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the legislation creating the NEA, whose purpose is to bring the arts to underserved communities where opportunities to experience the arts are limited by geography, economics or disability.

A little less than two weeks ago, Thursday, April 26, to be exact, was National Take Our Daughters And Sons To Work Day. I was a day late on this initiative, but the following day I was fortunate to be able to take my daughter to Washington, D.C., to spend a day with me and other supporters of The Creative Coalition as they met with members of Congress to advocate for the NEA. For the last two years the Trump administration has proposed eliminating all funding for the NEA.

My daughter joined a dozen people (several of whom are in the photo above this column) and met with representatives and senators to gain their support for providing $155 million for the NEA for 2019, to educate them about the significant contributions of the arts to our nation’s economy and to demonstrate why the NEA is a wise investment for our country. She had a wonderful experience and even though she has a job of her own, it’s always a joy for me to “take my daughter to work.”

Now, those who know me personally know I tend to be a fiscal conservative, and wonder how I can justify advocating for $155 million in federal money for arts programs. The current administration opposes this expense because with such large federal deficits they say the federal government can’t afford it. They suggest these programs should be funded completely by the private sector. That makes great bottom-line sense.

Except, interestingly enough, NEA grants serve as seed funding to allow organizations to leverage dollars they might not otherwise receive from the private sector. The ratio of matching funds for every NEA grant dollar is nearly 9 to 1. Nine to one. That $155 million investment results in well over a billion dollars in additional arts spending – most of it from the private sector which would likely not be there without the NEA seed money. I don’t think even the best gurus on Wall Street get those kinds of annual returns.

Not to mention, in line with that American Dream ethos, the NEA is the only funder of the arts in America, public or private, that supports arts in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Forty percent of NEA-supported activities take place in high-poverty neighborhoods and last year the NEA awarded at least one grant in every single congressional district in the country. That’s the definition of giving everyone a chance.

Lastly, I’m a big believer in the Constitution of the United States. Its preamble sets up six goals: form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. One of those goals is accomplished by the document itself, four are accomplished by the defense budget, and one – promote the general welfare – is accomplished by spending on things such as the NEA.

Since this $155 million represents a measly .004 of one percent of the federal budget and is about equal to what the State College Area School District spends every year, I think the benefits overwhelmingly outweigh the expense.

Enjoy your arts Happy Valley, support the NEA, and take your kids to work.

John Hook is the president of The Hook Group, a local management consulting firm, and active in several nonprofit organizations. Previously John spent 25 years in executive, management and marketing positions with regional and national firms. John lives in Ferguson Township with his wife Jackie and their two children.
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