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The Value of the Arts

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The Value of the Arts

Heritage Assistant Ellen Smithies explores the value of the arts, arguing that they make a significant contribution to modern society, including the economy. She argues that we should focus upon the arts, which is not only valuable in itself, but also as a complement to STEM skill sets.

There has long been a general consensus that the arts have little to contribute to modern society; that the arts and humanities are simply ornamentation to our collective educational development, easily dismissed as nonessential. This, however, could not be further from the truth: the arts impact almost every aspect of the modern world, and form a substantial contribution to the domestic and international economic market. In the words of Baronness Denise Kingsmill, member of the Economic Affairs Committee: “the arts and culture enhance our lives, stimulate our imagination and have to power to inspire and challenge us.”

The arts are all around us, and affect almost every aspect of our lives in some way. The films we watch, the music we listen to, the advertising and media we consume, the books we read, the TV we watch, the social media we scroll on, and the museum, galleries and theatres that we visit. Without the arts, everyday life would look considerably different and be far less fulfilling. The arts form the backbone of our understanding of our local surroundings, and aid our experience and perception of the wider world. To quote Sir. Peter Bazalgette, Arts Council England Chair from 2012-2016: “Imagine society without the civilising influence of the arts and you’ll have to strip out what is most pleasurable in life… you’re left with a society bereft of a national conversation… about its identity or anything else.”

The arts provide us with a lens through which we can view the world in a different way. Literature, films, visual art, history and performance all communicate things in a way that simple knowledge exchange cannot, and often in a more effective and nuanced way. Interaction and engagement with the arts can help us understand the world around us in greater detail and clarity, allowing for a more cultured understanding of what it means to be human. An arts-inspired perspective allows us to better understand the bigger picture, and equips us with the tools needed to further improve our own work.

In a world that seems dominated by statistics and cold, hard facts, the arts also allow us to extrapolate information and reach wider conclusions. While STEM subjects are incredibly helpful in terms of pioneering new areas of knowledge and research, the arts help to tie together the raw data and turn it into narratives with wider meanings and greater significance. The arts here give cold, hard facts a soul, as well as greater meaning. Children who actively participate in the arts also see greater educational attainment – English, Maths and linguistic skills all improve when students are given the opportunity to partake in creative activities. This has developed from the gradual breakdown of the idea that subjects and disciplines exist in isolation; there is now a growing realisation that STEM disciplines need skills like communication and creative-thinking – skills that come directly from the arts – in order to succeed in the wider world.

In a climate defined by economic decline and the consequent need for growth, it is important to highlight the considerable contribution that the arts make to the economies of the UK and wider world; the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) found that the cultural sector and creative industries contributed over £130 billion to the UK economy in 2017. However, combining this with the impact that these sectors have on the commercial creative industries raises the contribution of the arts to nearly 10% of the UK GDP, and 11% of UK service exports. The Centre for Economics and Business Research estimated that the sector generated an estimated £5.9 billion worth of GVA (Gross Value Added) to the economy in 2011.  This means that it generates more per pound invested than the health, wholesale and retail, and professional and business service sectors. The arts sector also brings in substantial income through the tourism industry; almost half of the visits to the UK in 2011 involved engagement with the arts, bringing in considerable investment and income to the UK.

The arts have a positive impact not just socially, but also in the UK business world. There are more than 3.12 million jobs in the creative and arts sector – that’s 1 in 11 people, or just over 9%. Arts graduates bring their considerable talents in communication, creative thinking and collaboration to bear in businesses throughout the UK and overseas, and with them comes great innovation and progress. A 2016 survey by Adobe also found that 70% of people thought that being more creative made people better workers and leaders; the same survey found that businesses that invest in creativity were 80% more likely to have satisfied customers.

As shown above, the impact of the arts on society is substantial economically, socially and artistically. The arts are incredibly important in the modern world, allowing us to understand the world around us with greater clarity and bring life and meaning to the empirical facts and data that STEM industries provide. Even those who lack artistic talent or predisposition can benefit from an artistic viewpoint on the human experience. The arts are universal – anyone can appreciate and benefit from them to some degree, as the arts are accessible at multiple levels. In the current climate, the arts provide us with a creative outlet, and can work to bring us together in a society that seems determined to segregate and separate. In the words of Cornell University president David Skorton: “Our future may depend on our creativity and our ability to understand the cultures around the world as much as on our proficiency in reading and maths.”

By Ellen Smithies, Heritage Assistant

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