Rather than belonging to a book club, I belong to an art group that talks about arts-related subjects. Recently, we discussed how to justify charitable giving to the arts while people around the world are starving and living in poverty. I spend a lot of time thinking about this question since my philanthropy focuses almost exclusively on arts and education.
Two articles have renewed my interest in the topic. In Sacramento, California, child welfare supporters squared off against arts advocates in a public hearing about the proposed allocation of some $500,000 from cigarette tax proceeds to art exhibitions at a new museum. And in Flagstaff, Arizona, the financially pressed Flagstaff Unified School District has proposed cuts to art, music, and physical education classes—spacing out “special” periods to once every five or six days.
Under current economic conditions, when we clearly can’t “do it all,” the question of where to spend our limited resources—whether individually, institutionally, or governmentally—is even more difficult than in good times. And it probably goes without saying that when more prosperous times return, we had all better plan ahead for the next downturn. But, as they say, we are where we are and there are no easy answers.
I certainly cannot answer this vexing question of philanthropic prioritization here. I understand—and even support—the argument that every child in the world should have food before we start spending on “discretionary” items. However, the issues that we face are far more complicated and nuanced than any “easy” answer would suggest. I would posit that it is equally fair to say that the future of our communities, our country, and our world depends on the well-rounded development of our children. It may be a cliché, but that doesn’t make it any less true—our children are our future.
In study after study, it has been shown that today’s children become tomorrow’s responsible adults by being well-educated—not just in reading, writing, and arithmetic, but also in art, music, and physical fitness. Let children engage with art on a regular basis, and guess what happens? Their SAT scores rise, and they become productive, contributing members of society.
While I understand the arguments brewing in California, Arizona, and, no doubt, in many other places, there is no right and wrong in this discussion. Like all complex problems, quick political or emotional solutions are not necessarily the right long-term solutions. They fail not only to strike the right balance between difficult choices, but also to articulate the role of government and the private sector.
I am quite sure that we will always need more of everything and that we will never have enough to make it all possible. So I’ll continue to make a personal decision to support the arts, and I trust that I will have an unknown collaborator who will support social service organizations. And we will both do so passionately and with equal, and respectful, zeal.
Chairman, ISC Board of Directors
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