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Lobbying for the Arts

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Arts Advocacy Day 2014 is next week (March 24-25). But what to advocate this year? More money? Always nice. More prestige? That, too.

The argument I would put forth to artists and art organizations alike -- who most likely will be calling on local, regional politicians and Congress -- is the role that art can and must play in the everyday life of every human being, in our schools, and our community as never before. This has become an economic, as well as a social, imperative.

Given the outsourcing of jobs and off shoring of whole businesses -- all consequences of globalization of course -- there is an urgent need to define this age we're in, and to advocate for recognition and meaningful change in attitudes that the arts are not only nice but also necessary to the wealth and well-being of our nation.

If we fail to alert America to this looming crisis, we will only see a continued downward spiral of our economy, our young people will not find the work they want and need, the purchasing power of the average family will dwindle, and the state of America's prowess in both the economic and political arena will be lost.

Daniel Bell, author and Harvard sociologist, in a book called The Coming Post Industrial Society first published in 1973 looked backward in time and noted how the invention of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney transformed the farm, forced people into the cities and created what we now call the Industrial Revolution.

He could see that computers and telecommunications like the cotton gin of an earlier era were bringing about yet another shift in the global economy, which he called the Post Industrial Society. Bell's treatise was the first literary effort that identified structural changes in society leading to the Information Age.

Now, 40 or so years later, we are struggling to define yet another shift in the basic structure of the world's economy. We know it's global, and Thomas Friedman of the New York Times has told us, it's "flat." But it is creativity -- simply defined as "the quality or ability to create or invent something, originality" -- that best defines the quality most of us need to succeed in the new economy. And it is art that best leads us to creativity and in turn, innovation.

But again, it is not as important what we call this new age. Call it The Creative Age as Business Week once did or The Age of Innovation, which Business Week later did thinking that might appeal more to the business reader, or call it The Age of Creativity and Innovation and make everyone happy.

What is important is that we recognize that a whole new economy and society based upon creativity and innovation is emerging and that, as a consequence, we recognize the vital importance of reinventing our communities, our schools, our businesses, our government to meet the challenges such major shifts in the structure of the economy are compelling.

Tax reform, education reauthorization, and support for arts and arts education will come more easily if that support is seen and understood to be an economic imperative. Nothing less will ensure America's dominant economic, social and political position in the 21st century.