As Romeo holds his beloved Juliet, his heart weeps for her death. Unable to think of living without her, he drinks a vial of poison. Moments later, Juliet awakens, finds her lover dead and completes the saga by taking her own life. And so lives the tragedy, forever.
Delaware now holds a beloved form of art, the Delaware Symphony Orchestra (DSO), in our arms. Is she dead, or is she sleeping? And how shall we complete the story? Shall it be another tragedy or can we change the trajectory and create an inspirational conclusion?
Regardless of your affinity to this form of art, the sudden pause in programming for one year by the DSO should rattle our decades old assumptions that the arts will always exist and that local, homegrown art isn’t necessary when similar forms can be obtained in nearby markets. It is my hope that we’ll take this time to quickly validate local art in our lives and commit to every possible form in every possible corner of our state because it is vital for our economy, vital for our ability to compete on a global scale and essential for the development of our culture. We sit at the precipice of either seeing the arts fall into the abyss of average or seeing the arts propel us into the 21st century.
The quickest way to understand the importance of the arts is to look at communities (our competition for employment) around the country that brand themselves with…ART! In Memphis, you can’t walk on Beale Street without being pulled and tugged into some form of live music, in Naples, Florida, you could spend weeks visiting the local galleries. In Austin, Texas, local industries collaborate with the emerging film industry. According to Americans for the Arts, Delawareans benefit from $142 Million in revenues generated by non-profit arts institutions and 3,700 residents are employed because of the arts. Imagine the economic impact and our ability to lure new employers if we had an economic arts strategy and an arts community that thrived and wasn’t always holding on be a thread!
Aside from the economic impact, it is important to understand the role of the arts on our competitiveness. According to author Richard Florida, 30% of employment happens in the “creative class,” as documented in his book, “The Rise of the Creative Class.” According to Florida, these employees earn twice as much as the manufacturing industry. In Delaware, these folks can have a significant impact on the creativity of the technology industry, R & D field, the life sciences business, architecture and planning disciplines, and the health/nutrition/fitness sector. All of which are major employers in Delaware. In summary, a community steeped in the arts makes other businesses better.
And how about the impact of art on our culture? At The Grand Opera House, children of every economic background are exposed to cultures from around the world through music, dialog and laughter. At the Delaware Art Museum, we can see how members of our community express joy and sadness by using their hands to tell their stories. At the First State Ballet, youth learn health, conditioning and discipline as they tell centuries old stories through dance. In Rehoboth, thousands gather at the bandstand with their families, garnering summer memories while listening to the symphony. And in many corners of our state, our history is told through crafts.
So I suggest to you and urge our public officials to step back and create a comprehensive economic arts strategy to propel Delaware’s employment and culture forward by leveraging the arts. The sobering reality of the DSO should make us want to treat the arts as aggressively as we treat the banking, chemical and agricultural industries. Let us ask the questions in our educational system, “How do we make Delaware students the best in the nation in utilizing art in all their skills?” Ask the Economic Development office, “Where should we strategically locate art so that future employers can access it as an amenity for their employees?” Ask our centers of philanthropy, “How can we relieve the debt load of our arts organizations so they can focus on mission?” Ask arts organizations, “How are you ensuring that everyone in our community can access your art?” Ask non-profit board members, “How are you making sure you are economically viable and governing with integrity?” Ask our Governor and his cabinet, “What is our strategic plan for the arts economy?”
And let us ask each other, “Are we committed to validate the role of arts in our community?”