The public’s perception of the value of arts must change from “nice” to “essential,” said Karen Wells during the recent Regional Arts Summit in downtown Concord.
That’s because in tough budget times, “nice” can become “expendable,” said Wells, the executive director of ARTS North Carolina
This year is critical for state funding for the arts, because 60 percent of those in statewide office have served only two years or less and may not be aware of the role arts play in the state’s economy.
Wells urged residents in each of the state’s 100 counties to contact their local, state and federal leaders, form long-term relationships with them and regularly encourage them to support the arts.
“If we are not active individuals in our advocacy for the arts, public funding and public support will go away,” said Wells. “And that’s the bottom line.”
About 120 people from 10 cities in six counties – artists and performers, local and state officials, educators, CEOs and community leaders – attended the March 4 event, hosted by the Cabarrus Arts Council in downtown Concord.
ARTS North Carolina’s four-part tour also made stops in Goldsboro and Hickory and will end March 14 in Chapel Hill.ARTS North Carolina was founded in 1974 as the N.C. Association of Arts Councils. It helped develop the state’s nationally recognized Grassroots Arts Program, which helps fund local arts councils and arts projects.
Organizers hope the events inspire people to attend Arts Day, scheduled for April 9-10 in Raleigh. There, arts lovers and nonprofit arts organizations will encourage legislators to continue funding the arts; pitch their arts education policy agenda; and discuss statistics about the arts’ roles in the state’s economy and in educating students.
“Most people…in this day in time pretty much get the notion that arts are good for schools and communities, but moving them to the place where they’re willing to be a champion, that is the task,” said Wells. “This (summit) is just the beginning. I think it’s really about enlivening all of us to this conversation…and getting the buzz going.” Rep. Linda Johnson, R-Cabarrus, represents residents of N.C. House District 83. She and Rep. Becky Carney, D-Mecklenburg, who serves District 102 in Mecklenburg County, are co-sponsors of arts-related bills being considered in the Senate. They were both panelists at the summit..
Senate Bill 742, introduced in 2012, would require all kindergarten through fifth-grade teachers “to know how to integrate the arts across the curriculum.” Senate Bill 68, introduced in February, would require that every student earn one arts education credit to graduate from high school.
“The arts are arguably the main ingredient for making a community a place people want to live,” said keynote speaker Wayne Martin, executive director of the N.C. Arts Council. “Elected leaders, residents, artists and cultural workers have spent 40 years building an arts infrastructure people can use to transition communities into the new economy.”
Creativity, said Martin, has replaced manufacturing as the state’s economic engine.
The arts in North Carolina support the jobs of about 5 percent of the state’s total workforce, said Martin. The nonprofit arm of that workforce, which includes local arts councils, pumps $1.2 billion into the state’s economy each year and employs the equivalent of 43,600 full-time workers.
The arts also generate $119 million in tax revenue for local and state governments, and the average investment from the N.C. Arts Council helps leverage roughly $17 for every dollar it invests.
“So the arts are already contributing greatly to the economic development of our state,” said Martin. “… State support, in the form of investment, in the arts is a validation that often leads to municipal support, which often leads to corporate support.”
A panel of local and state elected officials, along with the president and CEO of Carolinas Medical Center–NorthEast, Phyllis Wingate, and Frank Davis, executive director of The Cannon Foundation, outlined how arts has helped the Cabarrus community and the state.
Phyllis Wingate, with CMC–NorthEast, said art enhances patient care and helps recruit key professionals, including physicians, who spend roughly $23 million per year.
“Long before medical science evolved, the arts and healing were closely intertwined,” said Wingate. “The arts were seen as a vital part of restoring the will to live and promoting the healing process.
“Modern hospitals and health-care organizations have become very sterile institutions … but there’s a rebirth of the science around, and incorporating, healing arts into health-care organizations….”
Noelle Rhodes Scott, executive director of the Cabarrus Arts Council, said the focus of the summit was how arts affect economic development, community revitalization, tourism and education.
“The outpouring, to me, says that people are starting to sit up and take notice,” said Scott. “It wasn’t just arts people here. It was everybody: people who are interested in economic development, … educators, school board representatives.
“To me, that says the people in our state and our communities are starting to look at the arts as something that’s integrated and integral to every part of life.”
Scott said the best way for people to support the arts is to donate to or join ARTS North Carolina ( artsnc.org), which provides information about local advocacy efforts throughout the state.
Jennie Martin Tomlin, a Cabarrus native and a professional artist since 1973, plans to attend Arts Day next month because of what she heard at the Concord summit. She’ll also share what she learned with members of the Cabarrus Art Guild.
“Everyone is doing so much that it just needs more local response,” said Tomlin. “I think it’s getting better and better all the time. I think (the summit is) very enlightening, and it talks about something that, for years and years, has just been dropped by the wayside.”
Cabarrus County Commissioner Chris Measmer said his board sees the arts as an investment.
“And I think the return on the investment is great,” he said. “We’re very proud of the county’s and Arts Council’s partnership, which formed in 1982. The Arts Council has become a very integral part of our community in all it has to offer … and I believe there certainly is an impact on the local economy. Anyone who has attended a performance here at The Davis Theatre has seen the impact first-hand….”