06/21/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Taking Action for Arts Education: Charles Segars

Charles Segars, CEO of Ovation and Chair of the Campaign to Save Arts Education for LAUSD, spoke with ForYourArt about arts advocacy soon after his testimony in support of the measure to appropriate $180 million for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in front of the House Subcommittee on Interior Appropriation during Arts Advocacy Day: The 2010 National Art Action Summit in Washington DC:

Why are you an arts advocate?
I believe a commitment to the arts is the greatest measure of a democracy, and the size of that commitment reflects the strength of the Union. Our arts are in danger, yet they still are our best way to tell the story of who we are as Americans.

Many people argue that art and business are not compatible. What do you think?
According to the most recent Arts and Economic Prosperity study conducted by Americans for the Arts, nationally, the nonprofit arts and culture industry generates over $150 billion in economic activity every year. On the for-profit side, Arts businesses employ over 3 million people nationally.

Los Angeles, where Ovation is based, is widely recognized as the driving force behind America's $300 billion in cultural exports. In that city alone, one in six jobs is directly related to the Creative Economy. But, the impact of this Creative Economy can be seen in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Looking at a diverse range of places, in California's Congressional District 44 for example, over 5,000 people are employed in arts-related businesses. In West Virginia, Congressional District 1 there are over 4,000 people, and in Arizona's Congressional District 4 there are over 9,000 people.

With California's budget problems, the educational arts programs have been some of the first targets for cutbacks. You have signed on to save educational programs and keep visual and performing arts teaching positions in place for Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). Will you tell us more about this?
Too many studies have documented the benefits of arts education - in school and in life - to let such programs get kicked to the curb.

The arts have the power to transform our children. Students who have the arts as part of their curriculum greatly increase their aptitude in literacy, science and math. They are far more likely to graduate high school, go to college and secure full-time employment. In the formative years, arts applied as a core curriculum dramatically increases complex problem solving, team dynamics and communication skills.

This development is magnified in at-risk youth. Exposure to arts and arts education reduce absenteeism and drop-out rates. It even reduces crime in both general and at-risk populations. I've seen this firsthand. I'm a ten-year Los Angeles Reserve Deputy Sheriff, and I'm assigned to some of our most challenged communities in Los Angeles. So I have seen, firsthand, the results of a generation of kids without the arts. What I can tell you, with complete certainty, is that I have never arrested a kid leaving an after-school arts program.

What about the impact of arts education on the budgets?
It is estimated that by eliminating all of the visual and performing arts teachers in the LAUSD, they will save 3% of their budget, or $2 per child. Yet the State of California now spends $200,000 a year for every child that is incarcerated in the California Youth Authority. So, $2 per child for mandatory arts programs in our schools is a much better investment!

Unfortunately, this fight is happening in schools all over our nation.

It seems like the most worthwhile money spent, but I am biased.
Without adequate funding for the arts, we will be in even bigger trouble than we already are, both socially and economically. In D.C., in front of the House Subcommittee on Interior Appropriations, I provided testimony in support of the measure to sustain funding for our federal arts and cultural agencies, because what is done at the federal level sets the stage for decisions that are made about the arts at every level of our national, state and local governments.

What would you tell people to do on a local level to show their support?
Participate in one visual or performing arts-related activity per month, and take action on arts support by writing your local officials to support arts funding, in the City, in the County and in the School District. You can visit where you'll find links on how to be an advocate for the arts on a federal level; it's very easy - in a couple clicks you are writing to your congressional leader on supporting the NEA.