Arts' Value Must be Measured Beyond Dollars, Speaker Says Foundation President Urges Groups to Reach Out In Communities

 

Winston-Salem Journal

The president of a foundation that promotes the arts said yesterday that it's just as important to promote the "intrinsic" values of the arts as it is to point to their effects on economic growth and student test scores.

Christine DeVita, the president of the Wallace Foundation, spoke at yesterday's annual meeting of the Arts Council of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County, which was held at the Sawtooth Building. She referred to a new report, Gifts of the Muse: Reframing the Debate About the Benefit of the Arts, which the Wallace Foundation commissioned from the RAND Corp. The Wallace Foundation, based in New York, makes grants that promote such goals as greater arts participation.

DeVita said that hundreds of studies have extolled what are known as the arts' "instrumental" benefits, namely their ability to generate revenue, provide employment and attract high-quality workers. She said that such benefits are important but shouldn't be relied upon "exclusively to justify support of the arts."

"There may very well be other means of achieving the same impact that might be more efficient," DeVita said. "An exclusively instrumental argument misses the opportunity to describe what is really so special about the arts."

Margaret "Tog" Newman, a Winston-Salem resident, has led the N.C. Arts Council since 1993 and has long lobbied for public financing of the arts.

"I don't disagree with anything in the Gifts of the Muse," she said last night, having heard DeVita speak. "They're encouraging all of us out there who are advocating, whether it's public or private, to learn to state those intrinsic values in a more comprehensible way and to learn how to demonstrate them. We're not quite there yet in how to get that ... across."

It's still far more effective to plug the economic benefits of the arts when asking state and federal legislators to pay for them, she said.

In any event, what's so special about the arts? The arts can "captivate" individuals and cause them to grow in ways that are both pleasurable and disturbing, DeVita said. They can enhance greater understanding among groups of people with different experiences or underscore what they have in common.

DeVita said that all the benefits of the arts are interrelated. "The pathway to all these benefits is the initial experience of the individual," she said. "You can't get to any of the other benefits without starting there."

Reaching more individuals depends on increasing patronage - something at which arts groups are becoming less and less successful, particularly among the 18- to 44-year-old segment of the population.

"If these younger folks don't enjoy the arts now, what guarantee do we have that they're going to want to participate on the day their AARP card arrives in the mail," DeVita said.

As for future audiences, DeVita said that "direct involvement" with "quality" art among children was the best way to ensure a lifelong participation in the arts.

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