Colorado Arts Advocacy Day Address
“Money and the Muses: The Economic Impact of the Arts”
Jeffrey Nytch, DMA
Asst. Professor & Director of The Entrepreneurship Center for Music University of Colorado-Boulder
March 2, 2016
Many thanks to Arts for Colorado for their kind invitation to speak with you today, and thanks to all of you for joining us for this important day. Also, greetings from Boulder and the CU College of Music. In my role as Director of the Entrepreneurship Center for Music, where we provide our students with the tools and skills they need to thrive professionally, I have the joy of working with students ranging from first-‐year performance majors all the way through doctoral researchers. One of my chief joys is being able to work with such a diverse range of incredibly talented students, each of whom brings their unique passion and talent to our school.
Though my primary artistic activity is that of a composer, I have long harbored a love for economics and its role in the history of societies and civilizations. So it was with particular relish that I prepared these remarks today, and I hope that I can bring some clarity to a complex and often misunderstood subject. For, whether we like it or not, the debate about the role of the arts in our society generally, and the importance of public funding for the arts in particular, often revolves around money and economic impact. Fortunately, there are compelling arguments to be made in support of our case; hopefully my remarks can better arm us to make them.
Throughout recorded history, in every society and in every class, we can find evidence of the arts. Moreover, when we recall past civilizations it’s often their art and cultural artifacts that are most prominently recalled. As JFK memorably said, “The life of the arts, far from being an interruption, a distraction in the life of the nation, is very close to the center of a nation’s purpose – and it is the test of the quality of a nation’s civilization.” And so it has been, for as long as we have records of human activity.
Despite the ubiquitous presence of the arts throughout history, however, the relationship between art and commerce is often overlooked. Money and the arts have been inextricably linked for as long as there have been societies with artists, patrons, and audiences. Enormous resources were utilized to build the great monuments of the ancient world; the skilled artisans who realized the stone and glass masterpieces of Gothic Europe were critical drivers of the economies of emerging cities during the Middle Ages; composers and musicians were the ultimate status symbol in the Renaissance courts of Florence, Vienna, Paris, and many others.
Opera helped stir European nationalism in the 19th century; poets, writers, and filmmakers helped define cultural identities in the 20th. And multi-‐media performance artists have amalgamated the many diverse threads of our contemporary culture here at the outset of the 21st century. Painters, stone carvers, poets, musicians, actors and dancers…you name it, their activities permeate our history – our cultural, political, and economic history – all the way up to the present day.
Given the central place the arts have inhabited throughout our history, why do so many sectors of the arts industry appear to be struggling more than ever to maintain relevancy and value in our society today? And how do we square the apparent decrease in value for the so-‐called “fine arts” with the information economy’s increasing emphasis on innovation, design, and creative problem-‐solving – capacities that the arts not only possess in abundance but help stimulate and nurture?
To get at these questions, let’s start by examining the historical nature of the relationship between artistic activity and economic prosperity, and how that relationship has changed over the last century in some significant and profound ways.