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The Arts Work

Last week, we linked to this Chronicle of Philanthropy piece, which reported that the nonprofit sector “added jobs at an average annual rate of more than 2 percent from 2000 to 2010, while for-profit jobs were cut by 0.6 percent each year on average.” Drawn from a study by the Center for Civil Society Studies at Johns Hopkins University, these findings invite the question: if nonprofit organizations are indeed the third largest private employer in the country, should more job training programs prepare employees to work at them? More broadly, why do nature and arts and human services nonprofits not play a larger role in the national employment discussion?

In “Putting Americans to Work,” published on the Huffington Post yesterday, Kennedy Center president Michael Kaiser tackles a similar topic:

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?

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.

In other words, the arts have a pretty remarkable dual benefit: they can both create jobs for a wide variety of specialties and train those outside the job market to be creative, important members of it later on. (We also discussed the related value of children’s theatre yesterday) So what do you think? How might be make this value more apparent?

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