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Gloucester Daily Times Article by Linda Brayton

The Gloucester Daily Times

My View: Arts, culture and the bottom line

May 30, 2000



Here's a pop quiz question. What three Boston organizations bring in more revenue than the Red Sox, the Bruins and the Celtics combined? The answer is...(insert drum roll here)...the Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Science and the New England Aquarium. Surprised? Me too.

Now it seems to me that this piece of information can help us in our decision-making on Cape Ann in a number of ways. After all, we have arts, science and fish too.

Recently the Gloucester Daily Times gave some excellent coverage to the proposed Gloucester Maritime Heritage project, a good idea if I ever heard one. I was discouraged, however, to read in the subsequent editorial that "the Arts Center part of the plan was dropped."

Not so, not so. In the interest of expediency, the two groups simply decided to act as separate entities, that's all. The Art Center Ad Hoc Committee of the City Council, also under Harriet Webster's very capable leadership, is still quite alive and working hard.

"The arts are repeatedly overlooked as a legitimate tool for economic and social improvement," according to president and CEO Robert Lynch of the National Assembly of Local Arts Agencies.

"Yet when our communities invest in the arts, they are not opting for cultural benefits at the expense of economic benefit," he goes on to point out in his article titled, "The Arts Mean Business." "Careful research shows that...that arts are also an economically sound investment for communities of all sizes."

That said, I don't think anyone would argue with the fact that Cape Ann is fairly dripping with art and culture. Amongst other things, you say? Well, yes, but it rankles that other far less artistic and cultural cities and towns are referring to themselves as "Artist's Meccas" and looking to profit big-time from the image.

Earlier this month, Chad Gifford, president and CEO of FleetBoston, had this to say at a "Creative Economy Initiative" luncheon. "I'm always looking for returns, and an investment in the arts and cultures generates remarkable returns in the form of successful enterprises, a superior work force, high quality of life and New England's competitiveness."

(Sadly, I can't help but contrast this attitude with the apparent attitude at one of our local banks brought to light by Paul Cary Goldberg when he made an impassioned plea for help in his April 21 My View column. He spoke on behalf of all the artists who are losing their studio space at the Framery to the Rockport National Bank.)

A perfect example of an income-generating arts event is the Cape Ann Studio Tour, which is coming up in just a few weeks. Held twice a year, local artists and artisans bring some tens of thousands of dollars onto the Cape, money that is in turn spent on the Cape.

Of course, some of us are naturally wary of an overwhelming influx of tourists and fear that our capabilities for hospitality will be strained to the breaking point.

Sometimes it feels like a phone booth-stuffing contest around here in the summer, I know, but I look at it this way. Visitors to arts and cultural events, being aesthetically inclined, are perhaps less apt to throw beer cans on the beaches than visitors coming here for other purposes.

Furthermore, tourists usually go home. Elsewhere. This helps us to avoid even greater housing and environmental problems than we already have.

Education is another especially hot concern these days, what with the MCAS test forcing us to look hard at what works and what doesn't. It would surely be cost-efficient to make use of the gobs of research studies already done which document the fact that studying the arts improves students ability to learn.

For example, a College Board Profile showed that "SAT scores for students who studied the arts more than four years were 59 points higher on the verbal and 44 points higher on the math...."

As for the kids for whom the bumper stickers "My kid can beat up your honor student" was written, there are also many studies to show that high-risk students are also helped through studying the arts.

It has been proven that morale, self-esteem and creative problem-solving skills are all increased by studying the arts, and also, apropos of another hot topic in the GDT lately, that truancy and drop-out rates are reduced.

Acting on this knowledge can't help but improve matters for every one of us. I, for example, would be happy if this June's graduating class doesn't produce yet another single-car accident in which a drunken driver hits the telephone pole across the street.

The bottom line is that supporting the arts is good for the bottom line, but we're going to have to prime the pump first. It would be magical thinking to expect high returns on investments without investments in the first place.

Linda Brayton has a background in public administration, finance and budgeting. She is also an intuitive development teacher and consultant, a freelance writer, and a late-blooming artist.



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