Flawed methodology and overgeneralization hamper much of the research used to argue the economic and educational benefits, contends the Rand report, "Gifts of the Muse: Reframing the Debate About the Benefits of the Arts," issued Tuesday.
Besides, the report says, trumpeting the most quantifiable and utilitarian benefits doesn't address the biggest long-term challenge facing arts organizations: cultivating an arts-savvy public that wants what museums and performing groups offer. To that end, Rand proposes that advocates become less fixated on what the arts can do for business growth and kids' math and reading scores, and stress intangibles such as enchantment, enlightenment and community-building.
"People get involved because they think the arts are fulfilling; they don't do it to get better grades and increase their income," Kevin F. McCarthy, a Rand sociologist and the report's lead author, said in an interview. "But the arts community is afraid to talk about this because they think it won't convince the skeptics."
Some arts advocates are miffed that the Rand report, commissioned by the Wallace Foundation, a cultural and educational advocacy group, casts doubt on economic studies that have been proven lobbying tools.
They also don't see the wisdom in drawing a line between intrinsic and practical benefits; both, advocates think, need to be part of the arsenal to boost the arts.
"It's confusing. I'm not exactly sure what the motivation is for this," said Robert Lynch, president of Americans for the Arts, a service organization for the nation's municipal arts agencies. His organization's 2002 study, "Arts & Economic Prosperity," calculated that the nonprofit arts sector injected $134 billion a year into the national economy and spawned nearly 5 million jobs.
Ultimately, the Rand report argues, the arts won't flourish unless more arts lovers are minted through sustained exposure during childhood. That means shifting some "attention and resources" away from the "supply side" -- the creation of performances and exhibitions -- and more toward the "demand side" -- the grass-roots cultivation of youngsters and their parents through public schools and community arts programs.
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