The Gloucester Daily Times
My View: Arts, culture and the bottom line
By LINDA BRAYTON
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
"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
(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
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
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.