Wednesday, April 05, 2017

From the Archives: Kennedy Center chief Michael Kaiser touts economic benefits of arts education

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on on April 5, 2011. The publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site went dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

Kennedy Center chief Michael Kaiser touts economic benefits of arts education
April 5, 2011 8:47 PM MST

Michael Kaiser Kennedy Center arts education
Michael Kaiser
Academy Award®-winning actor Kevin Spacey set off a minor stir in the Twittersphere on April 5 when he Tweeted “Return on investment of 1 billion of arts funding (from base of 167 mil from National Endowment) is 29 billion for local & State coffers.”

Someone must have objected to his assertion, because he later followed that up with “For those who [question] the stats I have Tweeted about return on arts funding, I am getting proof u require & will Tweet it soon.”

By the time this article went to press, however, he had not provided the statistics to back up his claim.

Spacey is not alone in thinking that government funding for the arts has concomitant benefits.

Different emphasis
One who takes that position, with a slightly different emphasis, is Michael Kaiser, president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

Last month, at a luncheon following the annual season announcement at the Kennedy Center, Kaiser responded to a question posed by the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner about the message he takes to policymakers – such as Members of Congress – when he meets them in the course of his job.

Kaiser first pointed out, as a disclaimer, that he is not allowed to lobby Congress on behalf of the Kennedy Center -- a condition of its congressional charter -- so he talks to legislators “about the arts, in general, almost exclusively.”

More particularly, Kaiser said, he focuses on “arts education more than I do on performances or exhibitions because, frankly, the money they can provide for arts education [and] the leadership they can provide is more important.”

Changing economy
Kaiser gave an overview of the 21st century American economy to explain why arts education deserves more attention.

Michael Kaiser Jack DiGioia Kennedy Center arts education
The United States, he said, “is not a manufacturing economy anymore” – although, as Richard Lorenc pointed out in The Daily Caller on April 4, “U.S. manufacturing output grew 120 percent from 1970-2009 and 10 percent in the past ten years. American manufacturing output totaled about $2.1 trillion in 2009 compared to China’s manufacturing output of around $1.5 trillion.”

As a result of what he claimed is a decline in manufacturing, Kaiser said, “we need a different kind of work force.”

This has ramifications for politics, too, Kaiser argued.

“I believe all the political anger we see,” he said, has to do with “the fact that there’s a whole part of America that used to have their whole family income came from manufacturing, from working an assembly line, where you didn’t have to be particularly educated, but you made a very good living.”

At that time, Kaiser went on, “fathers had that living and their sons had that living and that’s gone. That part of America, that part of the economy is gone. Those people who were part of that don’t know what to do and they’re mad. I really think that’s where so much of the political anger comes from.”

The point, Kaiser continued, is that we have “to train people to participate in the creative economy,” which requires that students “exercise their creative muscles in schools" through arts education programs.

That, he said, is “something we can do very inexpensively. To save a few bucks here and there per student and to cut out everything that doesn’t allow them, I think, to become fully functioning members of our economy, I think is really crazy.”

Budget cuts
That is the message Kaiser takes to Members of Congress and other policymakers.

The new, Republican-controlled House of Representatives is making cuts in arts education that Kaiser thinks are ill-advised.

“The big area that we’re worried about specifically is arts education and VSA” (Very Special Arts, a program aimed at the disabled), he said. “In the first version of the budget came out, we lost $16 million.”

Kaiser said that he and his colleagues are “hopeful, not optimistic,” that some of that money will be reinstated “but it’s very scary.”

Congressmen, he said, “don’t even know what they’re cutting. I talk to members of the legislature and say, you know you’ve cut this and they say, ‘We did?’ And I say, yeah.”

The arts education funds are “embedded in other things,” Kaiser explained, so Congress is “cutting in big chunks and they don’t really know. It’s a scary time for us.”

Scary topic
Kaiser is not really worried about the Kennedy Center itself.

“This is a building that they own. They can’t let it fall apart.”

That is why, he said, “I’m mostly scared for the education of our children, much more than I’m scared for the Kennedy Center.”

Kaiser noted that “everyone says we want to cut the deficit in order not to saddle our children with the deficit. I would rather also give them an education and give them a chance to earn and be productive members of an economy. That’s a big concern I have. We’ll see.”

He concluded, ominously, “It’s a scary topic.”

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