Arts organizations are a good community investment

Steven Libman

We are still in the midst of a global pandemic and the sheer magnitude of the lives affected by COVID-19 is hard to fathom. As we all know, great news has arrived with the approval of several vaccines and thus we know there is light at the end of the tunnel, provided that enough people receive both doses of the vaccine.

What does all of this mean for the arts in general, and your Jacksonville Symphony in particular? Thanks to the creation and implementation of a robust and very strict physically distanced safety policy, we were able to open in September and since then have performed to more than 10,000 patrons through 28 concerts – a wonderful accomplishment. The Jacksonville Symphony is one of only a handful of arts organizations still performing before a live audience. But, because we can only perform to 35 percent of our capacity, we will lose over $2 million in ticket sales this season, and that gap must be made up with extraordinary gifts.

Nationally, the pandemic has created a terrible situation for the cultural community. According to a report by the esteemed Brookings Institution, America’s arts and creative industries have lost $150 billion (yes billion!) in sales and 2.7 million jobs have been lost through July. According to Americans for the Arts, the non-profit arts sector has lost $14.6 billion and 99 percent of producing and presenting organizations have had to cancel events, resulting in the loss of 481 million admissions. Nearly two-thirds of non-profit arts organizations have had to lay off or reduce payroll.

According to a study by the Johns Hopkins University Center for Civil Society Studies, nonprofit “Arts, Culture and Recreation” jobs were down almost 35 percent between February and August — a job loss rate that is three times worse than other nonprofit sectors.

So, why support the arts now? Well, from a purely economic standpoint, the arts generate huge returns because not only do people buy tickets, but they go to restaurants, pay for parking, shop and stay in hotels when they attend arts events. Let’s pretend we are in a macro-economics course. The nation’s arts and culture sector is an $878 billion industry that supports 5.1 million jobs. That is equal to 4.5% of the nation’s GDP — and here’s the kicker — that’s greater than sectors such as agriculture, transportation and tourism.

So, now we understand that it’s smart economic policy to support the arts. But the arts are equally, if not more, important for other reasons.

The arts bring communities together. The arts celebrate life and bring joy. The arts improve academic performance — many award-winning scientists credit their success to their exposure to and participation in an arts program because it taught them key life-building skills of creativity, discipline, collaboration, cooperation and practice that helped them to succeed in life.

Experts agree that the arts also spark creativity and imagination, which is crucial if America is going to compete in the global market. The arts also improve healthcare — 50 percent of America’s hospitals provide arts programming that results in shorter hospital stays, better pain management and improved overall health.

Finally, it has been proven time and time again that exposure to and participation in the arts is very beneficial to veterans and active members of the military. To quote Americans for the Arts, “The arts heal the mental, physical and moral injuries of war for military servicemembers and veterans, who rank the creative arts therapies in the top four (out of 40) interventions and treatments. Across the military continuum, the arts promote resilience during pre-employment, deployment, and the reintegration of military servicemembers, veterans, their families and caregivers into communities.”

Here in Jacksonville, support of the arts is crucial because our vibrant visual and performing arts community continues to serve as a magnet that attracts corporations and individuals who choose to move here for a wonderful quality of life. In many ways, the arts are the jewel in the crown for Jacksonville and if the arts community were to vanish, so would our ability to remain a top-tier city.

The Jacksonville community has been very supportive of the symphony during this very challenging time, and I encourage everyone to donate to those arts organizations that bring joy to your life and have helped sustain you — before and during the current pandemic. Thank you for your support of the arts and thank you for understanding how vital the arts are to this community.

By Steven Libman, President & CEO of the Jacksonville Symphony