Putting Americans to Work

It makes no sense to me that the arts are not embraced more emphatically by politicians these days.

I understand that the country was founded by Puritans who believed that music and dance were evil. That has led to a separation of art and state and a far lower direct subsidy for the arts than in many other nations.

I also understand that there is a deep fear, even contempt, for all that is considered elitist in this nation (until one's child turns out to be talented -- then the elitist tag magically disappears) and that many people mistakenly believe that arts organizations primarily serve the elite. (These people should visit the hundreds of community arts organizations, arts organizations of color, rural arts organizations and grassroots arts organizations that I get to visit every year.)

But at a time when unemployment is the key political issue and when virtually everyone in politics is struggling to find ways to reduce the ranks of the unemployed, why doesn't some smart politician realize that the arts are one way to help solve this problem?

No, I am not talking about the arts employing more people, though that would be a wonderful thing. (Franklin Roosevelt's WPA comes to mind.)

I am talking about the way the arts can help train people to be creative thinkers and entrepreneurs.

Virtually every economist agrees that for the United States to thrive, we need to reignite the spirit of creativity and invention that formed the foundation of the major corporations that now employ so many of us.

That is one rationale for encouraging small businesses -- new products and inventions are often developed by small entrepreneurial ventures.

But successful small ventures can grow to become big economic engines and major employers. Google, for instance, which started as recently as 1998, now employs over 30,000 people!

But economists are also lamenting the dearth of creative entrepreneurs. Who is going to be the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs or Sergey Brin? How do we continue to be the innovative leader of the world as so many countries pass us in test scores?

That is where the arts come in.

Who better to train young people to think creatively, to exercise their own unique ways of thinking than we in the arts? The success of arts organizations and artists depends on the ability of people to be creative and make something new.

I am convinced that if all children were able to partake in a consistent arts education, we would create a larger group of innovators who would become the corporate leaders of tomorrow.

By allowing children to exercise their creative muscles, by encouraging them to think outside the box, by allowing them to invent, we must be abetting their ability to innovate with confidence as they grow older.

No, it isn't a short-term fix. Installing meaningful arts education programming takes time and doing, so will not reduce unemployment before the presidential election.

But it could be a very low-cost approach that leads to huge long-term benefits.

Isn't there one serious politician out there who agrees with me?