Why the arts matter in Arizona

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By Robert Booker

The arts bridge different cultures and generations. The arts can embody the values of the cultures of all our communities; they encompass the human spirit: how we celebrate, share traditions, what it means to be family, and how we mourn.

The arts dramatically improve students’ educational experience and potential for success.The arts are serious academic subjects that teach analysis, experimentation, self-esteem, teamwork and problem solving. The arts help students reach their goals, keep kids in school and prepare them for the jobs of the future. Our kids need to know that Louis Armstrong was not the first man on the moon and that Celia Cruz is not Tom’s sister.

 The arts have a significant economic impact on communities large and small. A mayor knows that when the local theater is open on Main Street, the nearby restaurants are full. Arts festivals bring tourists who spend money in our communities. A national study released in June by Americans for the Arts reports that arts and culture nonprofits are a $135 billion industry in America, generating 4.1 million full-time equivalent jobs and $22.3 billion in government tax revenues. In Arizona, the nonprofit industry has an impact of over $500 million dollars.

The arts lift up our basic human needs and values, our culture and our traditions. Right after the 9/11 attacks, members of Congress gathered on the steps of the Capitol, not to argue and debate, but to sing. The arts are our vehicle for collective celebration and togetherness. The arts are a powerful tool in a civil, respectful, innovative, creative and economically productive country.

The arts take the lead in facing the tough issues head on. From Picasso’s painting, Guernica, to the poems of our own Alberto Rios, the arts are not shy, quiet or reserved. Mexican printmakers took on the atrocities of World War II through their work, way before artists from any other country stepped forward. Artists showed the effects of the Great Depression through artistry and then went on to rebuild the country as workers in the WPA’s Federal Art Project. Artists were part of the Civil Rights Movement with 8 millimeter cameras, typewriters and voices. Artists marched along and documented the Farmworkers’ Movement through photography and stories. Artists helped America understand the AIDS pandemic though personal stories, quilts and images that spoke the truth that “silence equals death.”

America is a country founded on the principle that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; and that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. As artists, we understand those words and we can work together to ensure that they are made true in every state in America.

But, for our Arizona, I want

… mayors to be as proud of community art centers and  museums as they are of banks, hospitals and malls.

… legislators and congressional leaders to know that public funding for the arts is a responsible action for increasing economic development.

… elected officials to lead our cities to a bright future of inclusion, respect, diversity and creativity.

… parents to understand that taking their kids to music classes and dance lessons is as important as taking them to soccer fields and swimming pools.

… neighbors to be proud of the fact that living next door to them is a painter, actor, musician, poet or dancer.

Finally, I want all Arizonans to be recognized for their hard work, their contributions to our communities and their dedication to traditions, new and old, that make Arizona a place where we all want to live. Let us celebrate our Arizona with visual arts, music, storytelling, dance, theatre and writing in our homes, schools, churches, community centers and arts centers throughout the state.

Bob Booker is the executive director of the Arizona Commission on the Arts, whose mission is to imagine an Arizona where everyone can participate in and experience the arts. He joined the agency in January of 2006, and was previously the executive director of the Minnesota State Arts Board. He was appointed as co-chair of the Arts and Culture Committee of the Arizona-Mexico Commission by Governor Napolitano. Booker serves on the Governor’s Centennial Commission and Foundation, the board of the National Association of Grantmakers in the Arts, and as a trustee of the Western States Arts Federation.

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