Monday, March 26, 2012

Why Arts Education Is Crucial, and Who's Doing It Best

Art and music are key to student development.

"Art does not solve problems, but makes us aware of their existence," sculptor Magdalena Abakanowicz has said. Arts education, on the other hand, does solve problems. Years of research show that it's closely linked to almost everything that we as a nation say we want for our children and demand from our schools: academic achievement, social and emotional development, civic engagement, and equitable opportunity.
Involvement in the arts is associated with gains in math, reading, cognitive ability, critical thinking, and verbal skill. Arts learning can also improve motivation, concentration, confidence, and teamwork. A 2005 report by the Rand Corporation about the visual arts argues that the intrinsic pleasures and stimulation of the art experience do more than sweeten an individual's life -- according to the report, they "can connect people more deeply to the world and open them to new ways of seeing," creating the foundation to forge social bonds and community cohesion. And strong arts programming in schools helps close a gap that has left many a child behind: From Mozart for babies to tutus for toddlers to family trips to the museum, the children of affluent, aspiring parents generally get exposed to the arts whether or not public schools provide them. Low-income children, often, do not. "Arts education enables those children from a financially challenged background to have a more level playing field with children who have had those enrichment experiences,'' says Eric Cooper, president and founder of the National Urban Alliance for Effective Education.
It has become a mantra in education that No Child Left Behind, with its pressure to raise test scores, has reduced classroom time devoted to the arts (and science, social studies, and everything else besides reading and math). Evidence supports this contention -- we'll get to the statistics in a minute -- but the reality is more complex. Arts education has been slipping for more than three decades, the result of tight budgets, an ever-growing list of state mandates that have crammed the classroom curriculum, and a public sense that the arts are lovely but not essential.
This erosion chipped away at the constituencies that might have defended the arts in the era of NCLB -- children who had no music and art classes in the 1970s and 1980s may not appreciate their value now. "We have a whole generation of teachers and parents who have not had the advantage of arts in their own education,'' says Sandra Ruppert, director of the Arts Education Partnership (AEP), a national coalition of arts, business, education, philanthropic, and government organizations.

The Connection Between Arts Education and Academic Achievement

Yet against this backdrop, a new picture is emerging. Comprehensive, innovative arts initiatives are taking root in a growing number of school districts. Many of these models are based on new findings in brain research and cognitive development, and they embrace a variety of approaches: using the arts as a learning tool (for example, musical notes to teach fractions); incorporating arts into other core classes (writing and performing a play about, say, slavery); creating a school environment rich in arts and culture (Mozart in the hallways every day) and hands-on arts instruction. Although most of these initiatives are in the early stages, some are beginning to rack up impressive results. This trend may send a message to schools focused maniacally, and perhaps counterproductively, on reading and math.
"If they're worried about their test scores and want a way to get them higher, they need to give kids more arts, not less," says Tom Horne, Arizona's state superintendent of public instruction. "There's lots of evidence that kids immersed in the arts do better on their academic tests."
Education policies almost universally recognize the value of arts. Forty-seven states have arts-education mandates, forty-eight have arts-education standards, and forty have arts requirements for high school graduation, according to the 2007-08 AEP state policy database. The Goals 2000 Educate America Act, passed in 1994 to set the school-reform agenda of the Clinton and Bush administrations, declared art to be part of what all schools should teach. NCLB, enacted in 2001, included art as one of the ten core academic subjects of public education, a designation that qualified arts programs for an assortment of federal grants.
In a 2003 report, "The Complete Curriculum: Ensuring a Place for the Arts and Foreign Languages in American's Schools," a study group from the National Association of State Boards of Education noted that a substantial body of research highlights the benefits of arts in curriculum and called for stronger emphasis on the arts and foreign languages. As chairman of the Education Commission of the States from 2004 to 2006, Mike Huckabee, then governor of Arkansas, launched an initiative designed, according to commission literature, to ensure every child has the opportunity to learn about, enjoy, and participate directly in the arts.
Top-down mandates are one thing, of course, and implementation in the classroom is another. Whatever NCLB says about the arts, it measures achievement through math and language arts scores, not drawing proficiency or music skills. It's no surprise, then, that many districts have zeroed in on the tests. A 2006 national survey by the Center on Education Policy, an independent advocacy organization in Washington, DC, found that in the five years after enactment of NCLB, 44 percent of districts had increased instruction time in elementary school English language arts and math while decreasing time spent on other subjects. A follow-up analysis, released in February 2008, showed that 16 percent of districts had reduced elementary school class time for music and art -- and had done so by an average of 35 percent, or fifty-seven minutes a week.
Some states report even bleaker numbers. In California, for example, participation in music courses dropped 46 percent from 1999-2000 through 2000-04, while total school enrollment grew nearly 6 percent, according to a study by the Music for All Foundation. The number of music teachers, meanwhile, declined 26.7 percent. In 2001, the California Board of Education set standards at each grade level for what students should know and be able to do in music, visual arts, theater, and dance, but a statewide study in 2006, by SRI International, found that 89 percent of K-12 schools failed to offer a standards-based course of study in all four disciplines. Sixty-one percent of schools didn't even have a full-time arts specialist.
Nor does support for the arts by top administrators necessarily translate into instruction for kids. For example, a 2005 report in Illinois found almost no opposition to arts education among principals and district superintendents, yet there were large disparities in school offerings around the state.

Reviving Arts Education

In many districts, the arts have suffered so long that it will take years, and massive investment, to turn things around. New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has made arts education a priority in his school reform plans, and the city has launched sweeping initiatives to connect more students with the city's vast cultural resources. Nearly every school now offers at least some arts instruction and cultural programming, yet in 2007-08, only 45 percent of elementary schools and 33 percent of middle schools provided education in all four required art forms, according to an analysis by the New York City Department of Education, and only 34 percent of high schools offered students the opportunity to exceed the minimum graduation requirement.
Yet some districts have made great strides toward not only revitalizing the arts but also using them to reinvent schools. The work takes leadership, innovation, broad partnerships, and a dogged insistence that the arts are central to what we want students to learn.
In Dallas, for example, a coalition of arts advocates, philanthropists, educators, and business leaders have worked for years to get arts into all schools, and to get students out into the city's thriving arts community. Today, for the first time in thirty years, every elementary student in the Dallas Independent School Districtreceives forty-five minutes a week of art and music instruction. In a February 2007 op-ed piece in theDallas Morning News, Gigi Antoni, president and CEO of Big Thought, the nonprofit partnership working with the district, the Wallace Foundation, and more than sixty local arts and cultural institutions, explained the rationale behind what was then called the Dallas Arts Learning Initiative: "DALI was created on one unabashedly idealistic, yet meticulously researched, premise -- that students flourish when creativity drives learning."
The Minneapolis and Chicago communities, too, are forging partnerships with their vibrant arts and cultural resources to infuse the schools with rich comprehensive, sustainable programs -- not add-ons that come and go with this year's budget or administrator.
In Arizona, Tom Horne, the state superintendant of public instruction, made it his goal to provide high-quality, comprehensive arts education to all K-12 students. Horne, a classically trained pianist and founder of the Phoenix Baroque Ensemble, hasn't yet achieved his objective, but he has made progress: He pushed through higher standards for arts education, appointed an arts specialist in the state Department of Education, and steered $4 million in federal funds under NCLB to support arts integration in schools throughout the state. Some have restored art and music after a decade without them.
"When you think about the purposes of education, there are three," Horne says. "We're preparing kids for jobs. We're preparing them to be citizens. And we're teaching them to be human beings who can enjoy the deeper forms of beauty. The third is as important as the other two."

Fran Smith is a contributing editor for Edutopia

This article originally published on 1/28/2009

"I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit." 
-President John F. Kennedy

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Tennessee Williams' Big Break

Tennessee Williams' Forward for Orpheus Descending
One icy bright winter morning in the last week of 1940, my brave representative, Audrey Wood, and I were crossing the Common in Boston, from an undistinguished hotel on one side to the grandeur of the Ritz-Carlton on the other. We had just read in the morning notices of Battles of Angels, which had opened at the Wilbur the evening before.  As we crossed the Common there was a series of loud reports like gunfire from the street that we were approaching, and one of us said,  "My God, they're shooting at us!"

We were still laughing, a bit hysterically as we entered the Ritz-Carlton suite in which the big brass of the Theatre Guild and director Margaret Webster were waiting for us with that special air of gentle gravity that hangs over the demise of a play so much like the atmosphere that hangs over a home from which a living soul has been snatched by the Reaper.

Not present was little Miriam Hopkins, who was understandably shattered and cloistered after the events of the evening before, in which a simulated on-stage fire had erupted clouds of smoke so realistically over both stage and auditorium that a lot of Theatre Guild first-nighters had fled choking from the Wilbur before the choking star took her bows, which were about the quickest and most distracted that I have seen in a theatre.

It was not that morning that I was informed that the show must close. That morning I was only told that the play must be cut to the bone.  I came with a rewrite of the final scene and I remember saying, heroically, "I will crawl on my belly through brimstone if you will substitute this!"  The response was gently evasive. It was a few mornings later that I received the coup de grace, the announcement that the play would close at the completion of its run in Boston. On that occasion I made an equally dramatic statement, on a note of anguish. "You don't seem to see that I put my heart into this play!" It was Miss Webster who answered with a remark I have never forgotten and yet never heeded. She said, "You must not wear your heart on your sleeve for claws to peck at!" Someone else said, "At least you are not out of pocket." I don’t think I had any answer for that one, any more than I had anything in my pocket to be out of.

Well, in the end, when the Boston run was finished, I was given a check for  $200 and told to get off somewhere and rewrite the play. I squandered half of this subsidy on the first of four operations performed on a cataract left eye, and the other half took me to Key West for the rewrite. It was a long rewrite. In fact, it is still going on, though the two hundred bucks are long gone

Why have I stuck so stubbornly to this play? For seventeen years, in fact?  Well, nothing is more precious to anybody than the emotional record of his youth, and you will find the trail of my sleeve-worn heart in this completed play that I now call Orpheus Descending.  On its surface it was and still is the tale of a wild-spirited boy who wanders into a conventional community of the South and creates the commotion of a fox in a chicken coop.

But beneath that now familiar surface it is a play about unanswered questions that haunt the hearts of people and the difference between continuing to ask them, a difference represented by the four major protagonists of the play, and the acceptance of prescribed answers that are not answers at all, but expedient adaptations or surrender to a state of quandary.

Battle was actually my fifth long play, but the first to be given a professional production. A brilliant produced two of the others, Candles to the Sun and Fugitive Kind, but semiprofessional group called The Mummers of St. Louis.  A third one, called Spring Storm, was written for the late Prof. E.C. Mabie’s seminar in playwriting at the University of Iowa, and I read it aloud, appropriately in the spring. When I had finished reading, the good professor's eyes had a glassy look as though he had drifted into a state of trance.

There was a long and all but unendurable silence. Everyone seemed more or less embarrassed. At last the professor pushed back his chair, thus dismissing the seminar, and remarked casually and kindly, "Well, we all have to paint our nudes!" And this is the only reference that I can remember anyone making to the play. That is, in the playwriting class, but I do remember that the late Lemuel Ayers, who was a graduate student at Iowa that year, read it and gave me sufficient praise for its dialogue and atmosphere to reverse my decision to give up the theatre in favor of my other occupation of waiting on tables, or more precisely, handing out trays in the cafeteria of the State Hospital.

Then there was Chicago for a while and a desperate effort to get on the W.P.A. Writers' Project, which didn't succeed, for my work lacked "social content” or "protest" and I couldn't prove that my family was destitute and I still had, in those days, a touch of refinement in my social behavior which made me seem frivolous and decadent to the conscientiously roughhewn pillars of the Chicago Project. And so I drifted back to St. Louis, again, and wrote my fourth long play, which was the best of the lot.  It was called Nat About Nightingales and it concerned prison life, and I have never written anything since then that could compete with it in violence and horror, for it was based on something that actually occurred along about that time, the literal roasting alive of a group of intransigent convicts sent for correction to a hot room called "The Klondike." I submitted it to The Mummers of St. Louis and they were eager to perform it but they had come to the end of   their economic tether and had to disband at this point.

Then there was New Orleans and another effort, while waiting on tables in a restaurant where meals cost only two bits, to get on a Writers’ Project or the Theatre Project, again unsuccessful.

And then there was a wild and wonderful trip to California with a young clarinet player. We ran out of gas in El Paso, also out of cash, and it seemed for days that we would never go farther, but   my grandmother was an "easy touch” and I got a letter with a $10 bill stitched neatly to one of the pages, and we continued westward.

In the Los Angeles area, in the summer of 1939, I worked for a while at Clark's Bootery in Culver City, within sight of the M-G-M studio and I lived on a pigeon ranch, and I rode between the two, a distance of   ten miles, on a secondhand bicycle that I bought for  $5.

Then a most wonderful thing happened. While in New Orleans I had heard about a play contest being conducted by the Group Theatre of New York. I submitted all four of the long plays I have mentioned that preceded Battle of Angels, plus a group of one-acts called American Blues. One fine day I received, when I returned to the ranch on my bike, a telegram saying that I had won a special award of  $100 for the one-acts, and it was signed by Harold Clurman, Molly Day Thacher, who is the present Mrs. Elia Kazan, and that fine writer, Irwin Shaw, the judges of the contest.

I retired from Clark's Bootery and from picking squabs at the pigeon ranch. And the clarinet player and I hopped on our bicycles and rode all the way down to Tijuana and back as far as Laguna Beach, where we obtained, rent free, a small cabin on a small ranch in return for taking care of the poultry.

We lived all that summer on the $100 from the Group Theatre and I think it was the happiest summer of my life. All the days were pure gold, the nights were starry, and I looked so young, or   carefree, that   they would sometimes refuse to sell me a drink because I did not appear to have reached 21.  But toward the end of the summer, maybe only because it was the end of the summer as well as the end of the  $100, the clarinet player became very moody and disappeared without warning into the San Bernardino Mountains to commune with his soul in solitude, and there was nothing left in the cabin in the canyon but a bag of dried peas. I lived on stolen eggs and avocados and dried peas for a week, and  also  on  a  faint  hope  stirred  by  a  letter  from  a  lady  in New York  whose  name  was  Audrey  Wood,  who  had  taken hold  of   all  those  plays  that I  had  submitted  to  the  Group Theatre contest, and  told me that it might  be  possible  to get me one of   the Rockefeller  Fellowships,  or   grants,  of  $1,000 which  were  being  passed  out  to  gifted  young  writers at  that time.  And I began to write Battle of Angels, a lyrical play about memories and the loneliness of   them.  Although my beloved grandmother was living on the pension of a retired minister  (I believe it was only  $85 a month in those days), and her meager earnings as a piano instructor, she once again stitched some bills to a page of a letter, and I took a bus to St. Louis.  Battle of Angels was finished late that fall and sent to Miss Wood.

One day the phone rang and, in a terrified tone, my mother told me   that it was long distance, for me. The voice was Audrey Wood’s.  Mother waited, shakily, in the doorway. When I hung up I said, quietly, "Rockefeller has given me a $1,000 grant and they want me to come to New York." For the first time since I had known her, my mother burst into tears. "I am so happy," she said. It was all she could say.

And so you see it is a very old play that Orpheus Descending has come out of, but a play is never an old one until you quit working on it and I have never quit working on this one, not even now.  It never went into the trunk, it always stayed on the workbench, and I am not presenting it now because I have run out of ideas or material for completely new work. I am offering it this season because I honestly believe that it is finally finished.  About 75 percent of it is new writing, but what is much more important, I believe that I have now finally managed to say in it what I wanted to say, and I feel that it now has in it a sort of emotional bridge between those early years described in this article and my present state of existence as a playwright.

So much for the past and present. The future is called "perhaps," which is the only possible thing to call the future.  And the important thing is not to allow that to scare you.

Tennessee Williams

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"Cities are Banking on the Arts" By Carol Strickland

Cities are banking on the arts

Once the first thing to be cut in a time of recession, the arts are proving their worth.
By Carol Strickland, Correspondent / March 1, 2012
“It’s necessary to invest in our cultural organizations in tough economic times,” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a recent opening of a new nonprofit theater. “Make that especially in tough economic times.” No wonder, since one-half of 50.5 million tourists in 2011 claimed they came to enjoy the city’s cultural attractions, boosting the local economy by $32 billion.
It’s not just recognized cultural hubs touting the value of the arts. Communities as diverse as Paducah, Ky.; Park City, Utah; and Buffalo, N.Y., consider the arts no longer in need of a handout but the go-to source of a hand up. What began as a murmur is becoming a roar.
Partly responsible for this shift is Richard Florida‘s 2002 book “The Rise of the Creative Class.” “Richard Florida has had an impact on every city in the world,” says Elaine Mariner, executive director of Colorado Creative Industries, a state economic-development entity. Banking on the arts, the book states, pays off like compound interest.
The new paradigm shows how artists moving into a distressed area (like New York City‘s SoHo in the 1960s) transforms a sinkhole into a boomlet. First, hipsters in fedoras make it a happening place. Then techies, entrepreneurs, affluent residents, and tourists flock in. Restaurants, galleries, shops, and upscale amenities sprout, bringing jobs, tax dollars, and cachet.
“The bottom line is economic development, isn’t it?” asks Sharr Prohaska, associate professor at New York University‘s Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism, and Sports Management. “Anything in the arts will bring visitors,” she says, “but it’s also for the people who live there every day. It’s a win-win for the community.”
Towns and cities across the United States – throughout the world, really – are investing in the arts both to attract deep-pocket cultural tourists and to improve quality of life. Paducah is a model others hope to emulate. In 2000 a blighted, 30-block swath of crumbling housing was “at a turning point,” says Mark Barone, a painter who conceived the rescue plan. “Either it was going into the abyss or they’d try to bring it back.” He persuaded officials to offer artists incentives (like derelict Victorian houses for $1) to relocate. Now more than 100 artist-residents make the town of 27,000 a tourist magnet.
“It completely changed the dynamic,” says Mr. Barone, president of Art­smArt-­cities. “The city commissioners didn’t understand the arts that well, but they understood the results. It’s a cash cow.”
Park City had a different problem. Packed with skiers in winter and movie-industry folk during January’s Sundance Film Festival, how could it distinguish itself from other resorts? And how could it fill those condos and restaurants in the off-season?
"Arts and culture is coming into its own as a major factor for for tourism,” says Kathy Hunter, executive director of Park City Summit County Arts Council. With nonstop cultural offerings from June to September, such as the Deer Valley Music Festival and the huge Kimball Arts Festival on Main Street, “an increase in summer tourism is what’s sustaining everything right now and, in fact, growing it,” Ms. Hunter says. In 2010, the town of 8,000 attracted more than 1 million arts-and-culture visitors who contributed $109 million in economic stimulus.
Denver has also changed its image from a destination for puffy-parka people to espresso-sipping sophisticates. Gov. John Hickenlooper (formerlyDenver‘s mayor and now governor of Colorado) made promoting arts a major focus. Aided by a bond issue and a dedicated sales tax that residents overwhelmingly renewed until 2018, the city built the striking Daniel Libeskind-designed addition to theDenver Art Museum and spruced up a now-bustling downtown arts district, home to a new Clyfford Still Museum.
“Colorado has always been known for its outdoor sports like skiing, hiking, and biking,” says Andrea Fulton, director of communications at the Denver Art Museum. “As the baby boomer generation starts to age, they can’t do those things five days in a row. They’re looking for other activities during their visit, like arts and culture.”
“We’re expanding the branding,” Ms. Mar­i­ner says of Colorado’s new focus. Besides sports, recreation, and natural beauty, she says, “what we have to emphasize is we’re a magnet for creatives.” Not that there’s a quick fix. Attracting both tourists and innovators to populate a burgeoning arts scene is tricky, she says, “Can you capture lightning in a bottle?”
Miami succeeded big-time. Since 2000, when Miami Beach began hosting the annual, contemporary fine-art fair Art Basel, the city changed from a provincial bit player to a World Capital of Cool. For one week every December, collectors, artists, dealers, curators, and art aficionados from around the globe mob the city – a record 50,000 in 2011. And these are big-spending visitors, whose estimated $500 million in direct economic impact powered the city from recession to reinvention.
New Orleans, still struggling after the double whammy of hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill, tried for a similar heroic comeback vibe. Hoping to make art as big a draw as music, it mounted ambitious exhibitions of international artists at Prospect.1 Biennial in 2008-09 and a sequel, Prospect.2, that closed in January. But for a city stereotyped as Party Central that attracts more carousers than connoisseurs, it’s a hard sell.
first version brought 42,000 visitors over three months but ended up $1 million in debt. The second, greatly scaled back, was sparsely attended, even though Terry Fassburg, a New York collector and regular at international art fairs, pronounced it “way more fun than Venice.” No silver bullet, art is seen “primarily as something that needs to be supported by public coffers but which doesn’t add anything to public coffers,” says Dan Cameron, Prospect’s founder, who raised funding privately and is now chief curator at theOrange County Museum of Art in California.
Buffalo studies others’ success
Buffalo took a methodical approach. After studying British cities like Glasgow, New­castle, and Liverpool – regenerated as destinations for hip tourists – Buffalo launched a new branding campaign in 2011: “Buffalo. For Real.”
Its current reality is a blue-collar, industrial city that has lost half its population since 1950. All the more reason to emphasize its legacy of cultural heavyweights: a park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, one of the finest modern-art museums (the Albright-Knox Art Gallery), and architecture by the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright. In the past decade, the city invested more than $100 million to polish, package, and promote such gems, part of a vision to “gild the smokestacks” and entice cultural tourists.
More than gaining tourist dollars, “ultimately, the goal is to turn Buffalo’s image around,” says Ed Healy, vice president for marketing of Visit Buffalo Niagara. He hopes the new identity will make it easier to recruit top executive talent to companies and lure new businesses. “We’re telling a very different story,” Mr. Healy explains. “People may come with a certain degree of skepticism, but they leave extremely impressed.”
Cincinnati, too, sees the arts as vital to attract and retain professional talent. With in-demand creative people so mobile these days and lacking mountains or a coast, “Quality of place is more and more a determinant,” says Mary McCullough-Hudson, president and chief executive officer of ArtsWave, a nonprofit arts advocacy group. “A defining, distinguishing feature of Cincinnati is the breadth, depth, and quality of the arts and cultural offerings,” she says.
Her organization is collecting evidence of beneficial social outcomes, like safety and crime reduction, derived from cultural activities. Not only does participating in arts activities help ethnic groups understand each other and boost at-risk youths’ confidence and academic performance, but vibrant street life also deters crime.
Lacking hard data, the arts have been at a disadvantage in justifying support. By documenting their contributions to community priorities, “I’m hellbent,” Ms. McCullough-Hudson says, “on getting the arts out of the ‘nice’ column and into the ‘necessary’ column.”
For every $1 investment, $51 return
ArtServe Michigan (a nonprofit advocacy organization for the arts) has just released a Creative State Michigan report demonstrating benefits for the hard-pressed state. A 2009 database of reports from 211 arts-and-culture, nonprofit organizations shows that for each $1 the state spends on arts and culture, an amazing $51 goes back into the state economy. “A lot of eyeballs have popped,” says Jennifer Goulet, president and CEO of ArtServe. “We’ve always known it had significant economic impact, but we’ve never had good data to prove it.”
Pointing out the competing demands for funding in a recession, she says, “We can finally put a compelling number on why arts and culture are just as important as making sure we have good roads and good schools.”
Arts advocates are quick to insist culture shouldn’t be seen as a strictly utilitarian fix for budget-challenged cities or a tactic to revitalize decaying downtowns. Painting a picture has intrinsic as well as financial virtues. Beauty, delight, and helping people understand the human condition are immaterial but real rewards, they say. The arts also provoke people to think critically, a necessity for a democracy but one that still ignites culture wars.
In a time of belt-tightening, the arts are often the first item cut, seen as elitist. The nonprofit advocacy group Americans for the Arts sees its mission as educating legislators in the value of the arts. A 2005 study cited $166.2 billion in economic impact from nonprofit arts industries.
“It’s a good business strategy to invest in the arts,” says Robert Lynch, CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based organization. “Support for the arts from government has massive returns, not only in jobs and economic impact, but in tax dollars to the federal, state, and local coffers.”
But, Mr. Lynch adds, “The main benefits of the arts are better thinking, better child, better town, better nation, better democracy, better world.” Although some focus on practical issues more than intangible enrichment, “the beauty of supporting the arts is that you get both.”