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Making the Case for Art : In tough economic times, groups for the various arts must remind the public of their value

October 22, 1995

In this time of severe federal cutbacks--the National Endowment for the Arts is facing a 40% cut in its operating funds--the news that national business support for the arts has increased at the national level is encouraging.

According to a newly released national survey by the Business Committee for the Arts, in 1994 most of the support came from small and medium-size companies.

The report says also that the philanthropic budgets of businesses are growing steadily, and it projects an even better year for corporate funding in 1996.

The motivations for giving that executives cited most often were a desire to demonstrate good corporate citizenship and the belief that the arts enhance life in the communities where their companies operate. Reflecting that interest in community life is the fact that 93% of the companies directed their funds to local projects.

California and the West, ravaged by economic weakness and a spate of corporate downsizing, fell behind in arts giving. Of the $875 million given across the nation in 1994, almost half was raised in the East; a meager 10% of that total was raised in western states, the survey said.

The arts in California have benefited from many wonderful examples of individual largess, but such generosity is not as widespread as it could be. Amid diminishing federal, state and private support in California and other western states, art organizations have no alternative but to work harder to make a connection to benefactors and the broader public. They must persuasively communicate art's value to community life.

Richard Koshalek, director of Los Angeles' Museum of Contemporary Art, has dealt with the question head-on. In a speech this year he said: "Why . . . have museums at all? What can museums do for people? . . . To allow people to deal quickly and flexibly with change, a comprehensive education must include one ingredient above all: an awareness of and sensitivity to the creative process. . . . By understanding the accomplishments of the most innovative artists . . . this understanding can foster the potential to live with greater imagination and the ability to propose creative, relevant solutions to complex situations."

Koshalek's words are a powerful reminder that art museums, philharmonic orchestras, ballet companies, performing arts centers, theaters and community cultural centers have both intrinsic and extrinsic value--value that benefits the local community at large. That's important for Southern California to remember, even in tough economic times.

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