by Colleen Cook
As a graduate student studying arts administration, one of my professors posed a question that has stuck with me ever since:
"Why do the arts matter?"
The professor argued that, if we couldn't answer that question, we should change our degree track. Every day of our professional life, we'd be answering that question in one way or another, whether we were seeking funding for a program, trying to sell a ticket to a show, or simply sacrificing higher pay in Corporate America for a meager non-profit salary. Yet, despite the fact that everyone in the room had been engaged with the arts for decades, the question is not exactly an easy one to answer.
Many of the students began to answer by sharing our own experiences with the arts. The spoke of high school musicals, favorite pieces, art shows, and friendships formed as a result of creating art together. Nearly every person shared a memory of a relationship formed through the creation or experience of art.
As we drilled down beyond "why do the arts matter to me?" the conversation turned to, "why should the arts matter to anyone else?" The conversation revolved around the economic benefits of the presence of arts in a community, what the arts can do to support education, healthcare, tourism, and business. Every one of those conversations felt like it gave greater weight to the conversation, however, it still seemed incomplete.
Here's why I believe the arts matter:
The arts are unique in their ability to put us in touch with our own humanity, and the humanity of others. Because the arts communicate through story, and the human brain is hardwired for story, we are able to learn and grow when we experience art - be it visual, dance, music, theatre, or writing. The arts have the power to change what we think, how we feel, and lend us a perspective outside of our own paradigm.
When we experience these paradigm shifts, we applaud it and we eagerly share that experience with those we love. ("You have to read this book/see this movie/get tickets to this play!") The arts offer us a point of connection to those around us, a sense of belonging, and a deeper understanding of ourselves and each other. In a divided world, the arts knit us back together.
That's something worth sacrificing for, worth tirelessly working towards, worth investing in.