Can the arts survive?

In the midst of education budget cutbacks and a decline in overall nonprofit giving, can the fine arts survive, or will it be another casualty of an unstable economy?

Nonprofit Quarterly released an article discussing more than $900,000 cut from some of the most longstanding and prestigious cultural institutions in Detroit: the Detroit Institute of the Arts, the Detroit Historical Museum, and the Eastern Market, equating a reduction of roughly 75%.

Meanwhile, in smalltown Pennsylvania, after Governor Corbett’s dramatic cutbacks in state education funding, several school districts have turned to staff layoffs and budget cuts, with one of the easiest reductions has been to cut back the arts staff, from band directors to elementary art teachers.  Already overworked staffs are seeking to maximize their impact with barebones budgets by simultaneously teaching multiple age levels, driving long distances to cover elementary, middle, and high school levels, even utilizing a single instructor to teach district-wide.

These circumstances don’t seem overwhelmingly optimistic for the future of arts.  Yet, some big names are coming out for arts advocacy, starting at the White House.  Melody Barnes, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council posted on the White House Blog about the importance of a well-rounded education system, and emphasized the importance of the arts:

“Education is one of our nation’s most important investments. And an education without the arts is incomplete.  As a candidate, when President Obama spoke about remaining competitive in the global economy and the importance of innovation, he said that meant not only teaching our children science and math skills but also encouraging them to think creatively and be rewarded with all that comes with being engaged in creative endeavors: the awareness that comes with self-expression; the sense of strength that comes when you share your authentic voice; and a fresh, innovative perspective on problems of all stripes when you’re using all of your brain. Failure to invest in a well-rounded education for our children will thwart our efforts to lead in a new economy where critical thinking and creativity will be the keys to success.

Ms. Barnes’s blog post reiterates the findings of the President’s Committee on the Arts & Humanities, whose 2008 report on the Arts found that low income students who participate in arts education programs are 3 times more likely to have high attendance and are more likely to perform academically like high income students.

Who can keep the arts alive?


In most cases, nonprofit arts advocacy organizations are beginning to bridge the gap between a funding hole and teh arts needs of the community.  P.S. Arts creates arts curriculums designed to empower teachers and help schools offer dance, theater, music, and visual arts.  By implementing resident teaching artists into schools, they are providing arts instruction where states have fallen short.  Along a similar stride, MusicianCorps provides fellows the opportunity to create and teach students in a unique setting, mixing apsiring artists with one another.

Millennial Donors

Just as Greenpeace, the World Wildlife Federation and PETA have begun soliciting full time students and recent grads, so should the arts.  The younger crowd (young professionals ranging from 20-35) are increasingly more cause oriented and socially aware.  Even if they give in smaller increments (say, a one time gift of $10) it still has the potential to have a greater impact if they tweet about their donation and start a small butterfly effect. Because of this, organizations are seeking direct participation from younger donors by making the donation process easier than ever before.  Many organizations are implementing twitter and facebook donations, tacking donations onto ebay purchases, initiating text to donate campaigns, and even partnering with major corporations to receive a portion of proceeds from product sales.

While the Detroit Institute of the Arts and other arts organizations are forced to do more with less, the good news remains that their doors are open, buying the organization, and the arts as a whole, time while charities and proactive campaigns seek to maintain survival.


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