Jefferson Part Two: Five Shocking Things About Unmasking Business Success

Does business have any skin in the arts engagement game? And if they do, can we rally more business support for greater access to arts education for all students?

In my last blog, I described how an idea to explore the impact of the arts on corporate achievement came out of a Jeffersonian Dinner we held. So here's the outcome.

On October 8, we released a report, "Unmasking Business Success: Executive Perceptions of Arts Engagement and Workforce Skills," based on a survey we commissioned from Shugoll Research. They surveyed 200 corporate managers and executives to explore connections between arts engagement (arts education, attending performances and participation in arts-making) and workforce skills. You can download the report here:

We wanted to see if arts engagement can predict success or contribute to a strong workforce, and if a background in the arts was of personal importance to successful executives. No one has specifically assessed this connection before; most research focuses on the impact of the arts on school performance and completion.

Here are the five key takeaways:

• Executives have an extremely low perception of the 21st century skills new employees bring to their jobs. Only 4 percent are seen as having leadership skills? And more experienced employees aren't much better!

• Unaided, few executives thought the arts could address this problem; but when prompted, 58 percent say that the arts can build these skills; and for many specific traits, such as ability to work with others, focus, perseverance, that percentage was over 70 percent. Creativity and Confidence were over 80 percent.

• A majority of executives, 56 percent, say the arts develop job skills that are valuable in industries outside the creative sector. So arts engagement is not just for the Creative Economy!

• Nearly 90 percent of executives participated in the arts in school; nearly half of them say the arts significantly contributed to their career success, and that ongoing participation in the arts impacts their compassion towards others. Arts engagement has a high correlation to career success.

• Yet only 22 percent of executives think this justifies their business supporting the arts and arts education, and only 10 percent feel arts organizations do a good job communicating these benefits.

Nice to see the impact of the arts is appreciated, but there are some negatives here, too: we are not very good at connecting the dots between arts engagement and success in ANY field. We know drama class is not just for actors, but what does it do for engineers or sales executives? We all need to think this through and connect how dance, music, and drama foster the grit and discipline to achieve in all career fields.

The other key gap requires a little more extrapolation: given the high correlation between the arts and career success for those students in poor schools who have little or no access to arts engagement, this lack creates an opportunity gapAnd let's not forget the task before everyone in the arts and education sectors: communicate this information, these findings, and these connections, to all who can step up and make a difference. Whether it be a local school board member, a parent of a student in school, a concerned citizen, or an in-house advocate in your organization, all of us should take Unmasking Business Success as a call to action for a more fair, creative America.

Tell us what about this report strikes you, and how you want to use it. Join us on Facebook to continue the conversation.
And let's all give Thomas Jefferson a hand. He knew no one alone can solve a problem, but that the biggest solutions often begin when a group of creative people join around a table and share a meal.