Low income people and communities deserve and appreciate beauty.
The trouble is beauty can be expensive.
At times beauty follows people and places of “perceived” value. I know that sounds harsh, but let’s face it: our culture and the operative rules of our civic life evaluate people, often arbitrarily, to determine who deserves what and how much.
Yet, art is essential to life regardless of personal net worth or level of formal educational attainment.
As a result, “poor” people create and express themselves artistically continually. But budget issues often curtail the development of sustainable artistic expression and the community institutions that place art at the forefront of community life for all communities and persons.
Recently, I read a published report commissioned by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) entitled The Arts and Civic Engagement. The report establishes the clear connection between participation in the arts and positive individual and civic behaviors.
Even more telling was the difference in behavior and civic engagement between arts participants and non-participants.
Dana Gioia, Chairman of the NEA sums up the study’s findings, “Arts participants, especially readers, engage in positive civic and individual activities—from exercise to charity work, from hiking to amateur sports league attendance—at strikingly higher rates than non-participants. . . .Healthy communities depend on active citizens. The arts play an irreplaceable role in producing both those citizens and communities.”
The details of the study are interesting. Here are the “10 Key Findings”--
1. Literary readers and classical or jazz radio listeners attend arts events at higher rates (over 3 times as often) than non-readers and non-listeners.
2. Literary readers and arts participants engage in sports more readily than non-readers and non-participants (about twice are frequently).
3. By every other measure, arts participants are more physically active (almost twice as likely to take part in exercise and outdoor activities).
4. People who participate in the arts are almost 3 times more likely to be creative themselves, to take part in creative activities.
5. Readers and arts participants are twice as likely to volunteer in their communities.
6. Performing arts attendance by young adults is waning.
7. Young adult literary reading has dropped dramatically—down 16% since 1982.
8. Young adults listen to classical and jazz radio less than they did ten years ago (down 8 and 12% respectively).
9. Young adults are also less involved in sports and are less physically active over the same period.
10. Volunteerism among young adults has declined by 3.5% since 1992.
The study, conducted by the U. S. Census Bureau, interviewed 17,135 adults, ages 18 and over. The response rate was 70%. The research was not correlated to economic status, a factor that no doubt impacts participation and access to the arts.
As I read over the report, it struck me just how important beauty, artistic expression and participation in the arts are to community health. Social capital gathers around and emerges from the enjoyment of the arts.
And, books are incredibly important to human and community development! Possibly the very best thing parents, neighborhood activists, teachers, and other leaders can do to insure the growth of healthier communities is to promote, endorse and make possible the development and deepening of reading skills and a community-wide commitment to reading.
People need books.
Anything we can do to increase the access of books to children, youth and adults will be a victory for our communities.
Art declares that people really matter, that each of us has a story and that locked inside everyone is genuine treasure just waiting to get out or to be touched and stimulated.
Novels, poetry, non-fiction, painting, sculpture, music (all genres), photography, videography, film, dance, drama, sports, performance—these are the building blocks of civic life and authentic community.
The recent public policy trends to de-fund arts programs are shortsighted and down right stupid, if community health and adequate education are even any longer among our goals as a people.
In my view, how we regard the arts says a great deal about how we value and regard one another across our various neighborhoods in cities like Dallas.