Skip to main content

Making Art Work

Making Art Work

Rocco Landesman, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), is often asked how he can justify spending $150 million to fund the arts when that money could be spent on “real jobs” like building roads.  The answer – that arts jobsare real jobs – was made clear to the government, civic, business, education and arts leaders who gathered on February 11 at an event hosted bySenator Sheldon Whitehouse and held at the Rhode Island Foundation.

The challenge is to take that message and make the case nationally for the arts as a driver of economic development, Landesman said. To that end, the NEA has launched a campaign calledArt Works – and commissioned RISD alumnus Jeong-Hoon Kim MFA 08 GD to design an identity for it – that demonstrates the role of the arts in creating jobs, vibrant communities and stimulating innovation.

In addition to Senator Whitehouse, speakers at the press conference announcing the Art Works initiative included Kim and RISD PresidentJohn Maeda. “We talk about STEM [science, technology, engineering, math] education as changing our economy,” he noted, “but it is innovation that truly changes the economy. Art and design equal innovation.”

Other speakers such asOwen Heleen of the RI Foundation,Keith Stokes of the RI Economic Development Corporation andRandall Rosenbaum of the RI State Council for the Arts spoke about the state’s strategic assets in the arts – a long history of artisan trade, dating back to the industrial revolution; a close-knit and vibrant community that connects easily due to Rhode Island’s size; and the deep and enriching way the arts are woven into the fabric of everyday life. In fact, the bill that created the NEA was sponsored and championed by longtime Rhode Island SenatorClaiborne Pell.

In addition to the Art Works campaign, Landesman spoke about the NEA’s Our Town grant program, which supports local engagement projects that leverage the arts to create livable, sustainable neighborhoods and enhance quality of life across the country. The NEA has also established partnerships with other federal agencies such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Agriculture to show how art is part of the “real” economy.

“[There’s] a perception that the arts are not essential, not part of the real economy and not [capable of generating] real jobs,” said Landesman. “[But] we know that they are, and we have to make that case.”

“The most important thing is that the arts community be heard,” echoed Senator Whitehouse. “Constituents underestimate the extent to which Representatives listen and pay attention.”