Art For The Economy’s Sake

Alan M. Schwartz
President of Asset Management Solutions, headquartered in Torrance, California

Creativity is California’s not-so-secret weapon.   Seemingly against all odds, the Golden State’s economy has made a big comeback from the depths of the worst recession since the Great Depression.  Employment has rebounded, the State’s fiscal picture has brightened and entrepreneurship is thriving.  Creativity and innovation have been the driving forces behind much of this newly regained economic vitality.  The folks in Sacramento would do well to remember this as they sort out the State’s budget priorities.

This is particularly true when it comes to funding for the arts and arts education.  These programs are often the first to be cut and the last to be restored.  Too often in the political arena, arts and culture are looked at as luxuries and of interest only to elites.  Nothing could be more wrong-headed.

The Otis College of sponsors an annual report on the Creative Economy and the recently released report for 2013 shows just how big a deal the “arts” are in economic terms.  The creative economy is made up of not only the performing and visual arts, but also games, toys, furniture and fashion. The report—prepared by the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation—describes what this all means in terms of jobs and income. In 2012,

The creative economy accounted for almost 1.5 million jobs in California with a combined payroll of almost $100 million.  That’s nearly one in ten jobs. And these are among the highest paying jobs among major industry groups—often averaging six figures. The creative industries also generate some $13 billion in State and local taxes.

More than just these impressive numbers, arts and culture also provide an intellectual spark and a climate that feeds ideas.   Theatres, museums, concert halls, galleries and clubs are also magnets for the kinds of creative minds that spur innovation and thinking outside the box.

Sure math and science are critical, but they don’t cut it by themselves.  State Senator Ted Lieu, who chairs the Legislature’s Joint Committee on the Arts, talks about the need for STEAM education—Science, Technology, English, Arts and Math.  Certainly, the arts are an avenue for California to maintain a competitive edge.

As much as I admire Governor Jerry Brown’s stewardship and fiscal prudence, I must admit disappointment that his initial 2014-15 Budget proposal did not call for a restoration of funding for the California Arts Council.  A $5 million Budget does not give the Arts Council to meet the need for grants to local arts organizations.  It is ironic that California—one of the world’s greatest centers for the arts and cultural innovation—ranks at the bottom of states when it comes to per capita grant funding for the arts.

Senator Lieu and others have been advocating a greater investment in the arts and in arts education.  You’d think in a $100 billion Budget, the State could find more than table scraps for programs that add so much to our economic vitality and our quality of life.

Alan M. Schwartz is a Los Angeles based investor and community leader.  He serves on the Board of Visitors for UCLA School of Arts and Architecture the Board of Directors of the Center for the Performance of Art at UCLA (CAP-UCLA).

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