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Arts advocacy in action: promoting creativity, community, and economic impact

By Jillian Luchner

Designer John Maeda discusses adding the arts to science, technology, engineering and math education, or STEAM. Photo by Americans for the Arts.

Americans for the Arts hosted their annual Arts Advocacy Days March 7th and 8th in Washington, D.C. Arts leaders and administration officials met with artists and advocates from across the country to discuss federal initiatives involving the arts in areas as diverse as health, tax policy, education and technology. The presenters shared some great resources, including a new arts funding page on, an Arts Education Field Guide to help people advocate, and a Creative Industries webpage that allows anyone to look at the economic impacts of the arts on every congressional district.

One of Americans for the Arts’ five policy priorities for the year is funding for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers initiative, which provides afterschool and summer learning opportunities to thousands of students. Afterschool programs are a great place to develop students’ love for, appreciation of and experience with the arts. Executive Director Jon Hinojosa of Say Si in San Antonio, Texas spoke about Creative Youth Development and the capacity of community based organizations and out-of-school time programs to inspire and encourage kids with inquiry and self-expression.

On the second of the two Arts Advocay Days, over 500 advocates took to the Hill to tell their representatives about their local arts programs and impacts. On Tuesday afternoon, the event concluded with a White House briefing on arts policy. White House staff involved in education, economic development, public engagement and the budget spoke of partnerships and community connections that truly make arts integration a success.

“The arts will introduce you to the world and the world to you,” said Jesse Moore of the Office of Public Engagement, kicking off the White House event. After displaying videos of student dancers and veterans who use art therapy to talk about their stress for the first time, Moore added, “The arts also introduce us to ourselves.”

Robert Rodriguez, Deputy Assistant to the President for Education Policy, implored that we follow an “imperative of equity and closing the arts access gap” and that the solution lay in a “broader learning ecosystem and 'all hands on deck' approach [including afterschool] to arts integration.”

Among all the information, 4 main themes permeated the event:

The arts paint a big economic picture

Contrary to common misconceptions, the arts are big business. The Bureau of Economic Analysis has shown 4.13 million jobs and $698 billion arise from the arts. People forget that the arts are more than just a public service. Nationwide, the arts are job drivers and revenue builders. The arts can also attract talent by creating the culturally vibrant communities highly sought-after employees seek.

An education system in harmony

The new education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), has made the arts one of seventeen “well-rounded subjects," whereas in the past it was identified as one of ten “core academic subjects.” This change by ESSA will require a much greater focus on state level implementation when ensuring arts opportunities are available to students. It is especially important to keep an eye out for low-income areas. An access gap exists in arts education, where the highest poverty schools have the least access to the arts. ESSA continues to combat this problem through the Arts in Education program, and funded it for 2016 with a $2 million increase at $27 million.

Invaluable, yet undervalued

Currently, the nation spends 2.5 cents of every $100 dollars (in money not spent on defense or mandatory programs, like social security) on the arts. In 1984, the country was spending 11 cents per $100 on the arts. Looking at per capita arts spending over time, one can witness the same decreasing trend. Today, the average U.S. citizen spends only 47 cents on the arts, whereas in 1992, spending per person was 68 cents. Data presented at the event showed that federal investments in the arts are leveraged at the rate of $1 of federal money per every $10 from other sources, so art investments are largely magnified and each additional dollar can make a big impact. The Arts Advocacy Days focused on restoring levels of funding by asking for increased appropriations.

Arts = innovation

One statistic presented at the Arts Advocacy Days really stood out: Nobel Prize winning scientists were found to be 17 times more likely to have practiced an art form than typical scientists. But for those who aren’t planning on being Nobel Prize winners, here is another thing to chew on: when surveyed, business leaders listed creativity as one of the top 5 traits they look for in new employees. To identify creativity, these business leaders used two main indicators—entrepreneurial activity and study of the arts.

Afterschool and summer providers can use the resources listed here to form connections with these arts organizations, and join in supporting youth engagement in the essential field of the arts.