Art contributes to the local economy and deserves support

Three years of promoting the arts community through the Southern Oregon Artists Resource, acting as a board member of the Art Presence Art Center and curating art exhibits at GoodBean Coffee in Jacksonville have shown me that the arts bring great benefits to our community. I hope sharing some of what I've learned will rekindle an appreciation that becomes a deeper commitment to support the arts.

Art has been made and practiced as long as there have been humans. Essential to children's cognitive and physiological development, the expressions of abstract thinking, sequencing and eye-hand coordination needed to make art also prepare young minds for mastery in reading, language and mathematics.

Integrating the arts into core subjects improves attendance and helps students achieve better understanding, learn faster and retain information longer. Creative problem-solving and collaborative skills gained through training in the arts give kids the edge they need to succeed in the new knowledge-based economy and participate in the rise of the creative class.

The new emphasis on the arts in education shows that creativity has become a valued asset to employers in many industries.

Art has proven value in healing. There are incredibly effective nonprofits putting art to work on behalf of the most vulnerable in the Rogue Valley. From children recovering from abuse and kids battling cancer to adults with cognitive challenges or contending with degenerative diseases, art therapy is providing relief from symptoms, positive self-esteem, better communication, recovery from trauma and open doors of opportunity here in our own community.

Results from the Arts & Economic Prosperity IV study in June 2012 show that the arts create $135.2 billion in economic activity annually, supporting 4.1 million full-time jobs. After reading the study's results, the U.S. Conference of Mayors urged mayors across the country to invest in nonprofit arts organizations as a catalyst to generate economic impact, stimulate business development, attract tourists and residents to community activities, and improve our overall quality of life in our cities.

Cultural tourism is the fastest growing segment of the entire industry. Half of all Americans take at least one trip per year and 15.4 million overseas travelers came to the U.S. in 2010; of these, 80 percent seek cultural or heritage opportunities. It's so important to our national tourism industry that commitments to support cultural tourism have been put in place at every level of government.

Communities that fail to support the arts suffer from its neglect. If we wish to improve quality of life for residents, increase property values, build attractive destinations for visitors and increase revenue for businesses, we must support the arts. To that end, the Arts Alliance of Southern Oregon was recently formed, uniting arts organizations and community leaders to collaborate and promote the arts throughout the Rogue Valley.

On May 21, advocates of the arts from Medford, Ashland, Jacksonville and Grants Pass had a panel discussion, well-attended by artists and parents concerned about the lack of financial support for the arts in schools and galleries. We discussed how art benefits our youth by giving them a voice and improving academic performance, its positive impact on our local economies and its role in building stronger communities.

We will continue discussing these topics at future meetings, finding ways to inform the public about the real impact supporting art has on our lives and our future with study-based information, not just wishful thinking on the part of the art community.

Anyone can be an arts advocate, and you can help! Visit your local galleries, attend receptions and artist demonstrations. Urge your mayor to answer the call of the U.S. Conference of Mayors to invest in nonprofit organizations as a strategy to catalyze local economies. Find ways to support art programs in schools and nonprofits with volunteer work, grant writing and donations.

Wherever you see art being disregarded, make your voice heard and share why it's important the arts receive greater support to continue working on behalf of everyone in our communities.

Hannah West is a Web designer for artists and founder of the Southern Oregon Artists Resource at soartists.com. She promotes the art community and hosts a blog, Art Matters!, where artists, galleries and organizations publish information. See her own site at hannahwestdesigns.com.


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