Much has already been written about the positive effects artists, designers and craftspeople can have on economies. A 2017 study from Americans for the Arts estimated that Florida’s arts and cultural industry “generated $4.68 billion in economic activity” and “supports 132,366 full-time jobs and generates $3.35 billion in resident household income.”
As an artist and an educator for more than 20 years, I am both a testament and a witness to the many positive ways that artists, designers, curators and scholars impact communities and economies on a more individual scale. While the Americans for the Arts data provides a compelling argument for community support and promotion of arts and culture, I would argue that the arts have far greater value to communities and the individuals within them.
As the English critic Walter Pater has described, the role of the arts is “to give nothing but the highest quality to your moments as they pass.” It is in this way that the arts create value.
And this creation is generative. Because of this, millennial workers and entrepreneurs want to live among artists, musicians and other cultural creators. As an educator at UF, I want to encourage our alumni to stay here and help us grow our creative community and, in doing this, we will grow our base of innovation and entrepreneurship.
But beyond economics or community development, the arts are important because they transform individuals. The arts challenge us to expand and see things from another person’s point of view.
The writer Amitav Ghosh calls on artists to take on one of the biggest issues of our time, climate change, which he describes as not only a scientific or technological challenge but also a “crisis of culture, and thus of imagination.”
Whether it be racism, climate change or global conflict, the arts play a role in imagining new ways of being, acting and behaving. So when we talk about the value of the arts, we need to remember their importance on both the individual and the communal scale, for both the quantifiable value they create and the immeasurable contributions they make.
Lynn Tomaszewski is director of the University of Florida’s School of Art + Art History.
Read her op-ed in the Gainesville Sun at www.gainesville.com.