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Super Bowl: A Showcase for the Arts

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One of the largest arts audience activities of the year happened earlier this week. Thousands of artists from around the United States and throughout the world prepared for months for this single event on one night in February. It's called the Super Bowl. Yes there was football, too and some pretty exciting football at that. But this is a televised sports event where no one leaves their seat during the commercials because they might miss some really cool, fun art. Graphic design, computer generated imagery, audio engineering, musical composition, actors, lyricists, script writers, musicians, lighting designers, dancers, fabricators of all kinds produce these tiny bits of theater we call advertising.

I've often heard -- and even said -- that the arts are America's secret weapon in developing our communities and cities. But lately it's clear that the secret is out because more and more mayors, community leaders and government officials are using the arts to transform communities. This theme played out in several of the ads on Sunday night. One wonderful piece showed the benefits that public art, performance halls, design, choral music, architecture and cultural life in general can have in the animation of a downtown and for the image of an American city. This ad without the soundtrack could have been a video poster for our nation's five thousand city arts commissions. The City turned out to be Detroit, and the spot featured Eminem one of Motor City's most renowned musicians. And the ad was for Chrysler.

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The Fox network seems to understand the power of the arts, too. The post-Super Bowl spot is the most coveted, prime TV real estate currently available for any TV show. Because that show is virtually guaranteed to have the largest audience it will ever have, it has the golden opportunity to draw in new viewers. So what did Fox choose to follow the Super Bowl? They chose Glee, the arts show... with some football and relationships thrown in. And did Glee ever reap the benefits. The post-Super Bowl episode was the highest-rated Glee show ever, and is the top-rated scripted telecast of any TV show in three years.

I find this fascinating but not surprising. The National Arts Index, which Americans for the Arts produces each year, indicates that interest in the arts in America continues to grow. Online downloads of music are soaring. Involvement in the arts -- whether in the neighborhood, personal self creation, volunteerism or on TV during the Super Bowl intermission -- is stronger than ever. Three thousand new nonprofit arts organizations were created during the 2007-2009 recession resulting in a record 109,000 nonprofit art groups in America. Glee writer and co-creator Ryan Murphy while accepting his Emmy for Outstanding Director noted that "Glee is about the importance of arts education." And Ian Brennan said in accepting an award at this year's Golden Globes, "I just want to say thank you to public schoolteachers. You don't get paid like it, but you're doing the most important work in America." Fox and Chrysler may want to send a thank you to all the art teachers and artists too.

It turns out that the influence of the arts may go far beyond the audience retention benefits of Glee and the sales benefits of the best arts presentation in advertising. In a recent NPR piece it was revealed that many Green Bay Packers players had been adding a bit of the secret weapon of the arts to their own game arsenals. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers plays guitar and has his own record label. And a number of Packers have taken group piano lessons, including two safeties, a cornerback, a quarterback and a linebacker. Green Bay won. Coincidence? I don't think so. But you never know. Years ago Kareem Abdul Jabar told me that his love of jazz and the improvisation it taught him helped with his basketball game. And New York Yankee Bernie Williams said the discipline he learned as a classical guitarist made him a better baseball player. For future Super Bowl players, the scouts may be out early looking in on the music and theater classes and perhaps even the nation's glee clubs.