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The Arts Mean Business

June 13, 2014

I am an artist, I own a business that does commercial art and I support the arts in numerous ways including volunteerism, actual cash donations and simply going to enjoy a dance/theater/gallery show on a regular basis.

I’ve always known instinctively that arts are important and valuable, not just on a personal level, but also to society on a harder-to-define and more broad-based level.

That level has now been well defined and quantified, by many groups but particularly by the organization Americans for the Arts, who researches and publishes the economic impact of the arts in a variety of easy to understand fact/impact sheets:

I could wax philosophically about how important an well-rounded, arts-based education focused on teaching people how to think rather than teaching them what to do has helped me as a person and as an employer but then my Jesuit-education would be clearly and unabashedly be showing. The facts are, arts can help kids and adults learn and adapt to new things (something as easy as playing music while you write or work can improve efficiency, don’t believe me – read more here in the New York Times:, can help us access and understand that tremendous link between our emotions and our decision to purchase things (my entire business is based on the fact that how we depict information is just as important as what we depict. Skeptical? I’m teaching a webinar-based course starting next week: and generally the arts provide us with an opportunity to appreciate beauty which is scientifically proven to lift our mood (Linda Stone has some fantastic tips about realigning our attention to maximize our own efficiency and hone our focus including appreciating cute things—LOLCats is now market research time, wohoo!—and taking a walk in nature, read more about her here:

Creativity is the one of the top three personality traits most important to career success, according to US employers (from a study between Adobe Systems Inc., the Conference Board, Americans for the Arts and the American Association of School Administrators). The study claims: “Teaching creativity develops critical thinking, engages students and fosters innovation.”

Further, 72% of all employers say creativity is a primary concern when they are hiring, yet 85% of those employers cannot find the creative applicants they seek. The majority of employers (in all/any industry) and superintendents of schools agree that a college degree in the arts is the most “significant indicator of creativity in a prospective job candidate.” This I’m sure is welcome news to my fellow liberal and fine arts majors.

Similar studies have found that students with an arts high school education “have higher GPAs and standardized test scores…. lower drop-out rates… regardless of socio-economic status.” Additionally, “students with 4 years of arts or music in high school average 100 points better on their SAT scores than students with just one-half year of arts or music.” (Americans for the Arts)

The arts make you smarter and making arts accessible to all people regardless of their ability to pay for lessons/classes/programs will make ALL people smarter and make all businesses potentially more pioneering and competitive in an increasingly difficult global market.

Arts are big business in this country. Dun and Bradstreet in a 2014 analysis found more than 750,000 arts-based businesses in the US employee more than 3.1M people. In DC alone 2,537 arts-based businesses employee more than 22,000 people ranging from museums, performing arts, graphic design to art schools. Many arts-based organizations are not-for-profit and a study done in 2012 found that spending by arts audiences, specifically for attending events, is on average $26.40 per person in addition to the event cost for things like restaurant visits, parking or babysitting which pumps even more money into a local economy and creates an arts-based eco-system where tons of non-related businesses can also thrive. The same study found that non-local attendees spent more than twice as much as their local counterparts $39.96 vs $17.42 (per person). Arts drive local economy growth and provide an opportunity for tourism dollars.

Speaking of tourism, the Department of Commerce reports that international travelers in the past 10 years have increased their arts consumption in the US from 18-24% visiting our museums and 14-17% attending a concert or theater performance. Additionally, we export more art stuff then we import—exporting more than $72B dollars work of arts goods including things like movies and jewelry and only importing $25B.

While the arts continue to show growth, vibrancy in local and international economic development, and are key indicators in the overall success of students seeking employment, the arts continue to be slashed from school budgets. Art, in all its many forms (dance, theater, creative writing, drawing, etc.) is seen as expendable, particularly amongst the socio-economic groups that may benefit the most from exposure to the arts. A 2011 study by the National Endowment for the Arts tracked from 1982 to 2008 the decline of arts education to “underserved populations” and found that in 2008, African-American and Hispanic students had less than HALF the access to arts education then their white peers.

While at the same time researcher James Catterall from UCLA found that “low-socio-economic status students who are engaged in arts learning have increases in high school academic performance, college-going rates, college grades and holding jobs with a future.”

If we want our country, our local community and our kids to be successful in the future we should be investing in not only our own access to the arts, but to EVERYONES access to the arts.

Supporting a local arts-non-profit is a great way to do that.

On average, as found in a 2014 study across arts-non-profits in the US, 60% of all revenue is earned with only 24% coming from individual donations (the rest is a mix of grants from local, state or federal governments, corporate philanthropy or foundations). This means that the arts are not always standing around looking for handouts. The arts are making money and driving, as noted early, spending in unrelated but geographically close business while providing jobs.

Go to a show, visit an art gallery opening and grab a drink at a bar before hand (do both with a paint and sip event!), have dessert at a local restaurant after a poetry reading. Support your local artists by enjoying them, regularly.

In DC you cannot shake a stick without hitting an amazing arts experience. We have festivals and performances, cultural events and galleries, there’s art outside and inside, there’s art online and in your own backyard. Get out of your house, away from your TV and experience art. I promise it’ll make you smarter AND happier. It might also make you more marketable for your next job or help you find a new employee (I’ve been known to hire theater people—they are the best at providing customer service even with the most cantankerous clients).

And if you feel so inclined to enjoy making a little art yourself, take a class, or even better still, help someone else take a class.

I have been on the board of the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop (CHAW) for 8 years. I have given my blood, sweat, volunteer hours and cold hard cash to make sure that someone else has the opportunity to do a little art or music or dance or sculpture in my local community. I grew up welfare-line poor and only because other people helped my mom and I, did I get the chance to explore my own creativity. Those experiences have made me the daring, problem solving, confident, professional businesswoman I am today who was able to still be inspired and innovate despite my family’s economic limitations.

You can donate to CHAW here, specifically to support their tuition-assistance fund. No one (child or adult) who has asked for assistance has ever been turned away in more than 40 years of the organization’s existence:

Or here:

You can visit and take a class or see a show at CHAW (they’re metro accessible!) or find a way to support the arts in your local community, wherever that may be in whatever way is most meaningful and appropriate to you.

The arts get a bad rap for being expendable, additional, the “icing” on a cake that is unnecessary for education or for living a full and rich life. Arts aren’t the icing; the arts are the plate that the cake is on. You cannot have a viable, creative, innovative, wealthy and independent society without giving your entire population access to the arts and now, the numbers prove it.

Colleen Jolly

Reprinted with permission from