About a year and a half ago, I praised then-Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee for making the case that arts and music instruction was just as important for creativity and economic competitiveness as math and science. While I did not support his candidacy, I thought he was on the right track on this one.
Now comes a comment regarding my candidate in that race, who, by the way, won. First Lady Michelle Obama was in New York yesterday to promote the arts. According to today’s New York Times, she made the following remark:
“My husband and I believe strongly that arts education is essential for building innovative thinkers who will be our nation’s leaders of tomorrow,” said Mrs. Obama, who introduced a performance by a multiracial cast of young dancers.
For me, that emphasis on the link between innovation/creativity and the arts is one of the most important – and most overlooked – factors. Yes, art for art’s sake is good. Arts help define what it means to be human — and raise the level of our collective humanity.
But there is also a hard nosed economic bottom line to the arts. In most cases, arts advocates try to make this case in terms of the economic contribution of the arts. The arts are big business – as study after study have shown. As a report from the National Governors Association (NGA) Arts & the Economy: Using Arts and Culture to Stimulate State Economic Development explains:
Arts and culture-related industries, also known as “creative industries,” provide direct economic benefits to states and communities: They create jobs, attract investments, generate tax revenues, and stimulate local economies through tourism and consumer purchases.
But that is an incomplete case. As the very next sentence in that NGA report states:
These industries also provide an array of other benefits, such as infusing other industries with creative insight for their products and services and preparing workers to participate in the contemporary workforce.
Just as math is a foundational skill, so are the arts. As Huckabee was quoted as saying in my earlier posting, “If you don’t stimulate both sides of a human’s brain, you’re simply generating half the capacity.”
Last November, the British Arts and Humanities Research Council and their National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) put out a report on Arts and Humanities Research and Innovation. That report took a unique (and somewhat radical) view of innovation:
Traditional understandings of innovation emphasise the importance of science and technology research. In contrast, this paper investigates the role that arts and humanities research plays in the innovation system.
Just as research is the keystone to science and technology, so should it be for arts and humanities. We often label this activity “scholarship” rather than “research.” Yet, as the NESTA report points out, it should be viewed in the same light:
As shown in this paper, the arts and humanities make vital contributions to the innovation system, even though some arts and humanities researchers may not perceive themselves as part of this system, and may resent attempts to assess the relevance of their work in this way.
. . .
Arts and humanities researchers have often taken a robustly independent line in this area, and there is generally less of a tradition of societal problem-orientation than found in other disciplines. Yet we have seen how the arts and humanities already offer new and innovative approaches that can have profound effects on society. The arts and humanities have the critical and analytical capacity to challenge assumptions
and ways of working, while providing a sense of the historical context, traditions and cultural setting in which society and the economy function.
This is a line of think we need to pursue in this country as well. Maybe the First Lady’s comments will help lead us in that direction.