There was a lot of chatter about the lack of mention for “the arts” in President Obama’s speech. Well, I printed out all 21 pages of it (I’ll be making a Staples run for ink soon), and if there was a mention of the arts, I missed it (and please point it out if I did).
I think this is an important omission. Especially as the President spoke on the importance of education to economic success, not just for the individual, but for the country. I would like to point the White House and our leaders, to Richard Florida’s book, “The Rise of the The Creative Class”. He writes “Many say that we now live in an “information” economy or a “knowledge” economy. But what’s more fundamentally true is that we know have an economy powered by human creativity. Creativity- “the ability to create meaningful new forms”, as Webster’s dictionary puts it- is now the decisive competitive advantage.” He continues “...creativity underlies all economic advancement, then it seems to me we can read economic history as a succession of new and better ways to harness creativity.”
The President spoke of science and technology, of math, of higher education. All of which are great things. But there was not a mention of the arts, alone, or how they could be used to strengthen those things. Training in the arts- visual, music, dance, writing, theatre- is training in creativity. The arts teach improvisation, listening, personal interactions. The arts validate personal choices and voices. And those lessons and confirmations encourage children to explore, to think outside the box, to dream big. Creative problem solving, invention and risk taking are important skills for tomorrow’s entrepreneurs, leaders and employees, not just artists.
Additionally, the arts do not just foster skills for economic success, they create economic success. According the the Arts Index released this week, the number of Americans employed by the arts sector rose 17% from 1996 to 2009. I’m proud, and lucky, to live in Philly, with a Creative Vitality score of 1.7. Creative Vitality measures employment and engagement. Philly ranks a full 70% above the national average of 1. (report published by WestAF and Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture and Creative Economy) Our city recognizes that the arts are an economic force all their own.
President Obama said on Tuesday “What we can do -- what America does better than anyone else -- is spark the creativity and imagination of our people.” Well, Mr. President, then why didn’t you mention the arts?