The Ripple Effect

The arts, for many people, are personal. People draw or paint to capture inner beauty. They harmonize with friends for fun. They give their kids or grandkids ballet lessons to encourage poise. They hope theater will impart self confidence and that culture will make their children better citizens. Those of us who love the arts also believe that the arts make better people…expand their knowledge, feed their soul, give voice to ideas. Yes, it’s all very personal.

But, there is increasing evidence that the arts are more than personal. They have a “ripple effect.” When arts are in the schools, learning improves. When paintings are in hospital rooms, healing improves. When art is in the workplace, creativity improves. When kids experience art, behavior improves. And art in the neighborhood becomes a “no graffiti zone.”

Broadly speaking, the ripple of benefits from film centers, music halls, dance studios, performing arts centers, theaters, galleries and outdoor venues includes more vitality and dynamism in our communities, more new and restored buildings, more tourists, more restaurant goers and more people and businesses moving into Westchester because it’s an appealing place to live, work and play. But the benefits don’t stop there.

The benefits of arts activities also drive ripples through our economy. The most recent report conducted by Americans for the Arts shows that the economic impact of the arts in Westchester has increased to a high of $156.44 million, supporting 4,800 jobs. These figures compel many urbanologists to consider the arts a “public benefit.”

Fueling this view is the impressive record the arts have of community building, place-making and civic engagement. Those terms are metaphors for the power the arts have to build identity. Places, just like people, have a persona. The arts have been known to give places, neighborhoods and cities an identity that reflects the values of the people who live there. They promote pride, ownership, stature and self esteem. Without the arts, Westchester would be just another American county, without distinction, and, without the Music Hall, Tarrytown would be just another river town.

For me personally, at this time of year, I think about the public benefit of the arts as a bridge. As technology increasingly becomes the way we participate in our communities, we as a society are perhaps more connected, but less engaged. Through the arts, however, diverse groups of people come together in-person, share common experiences, hear new perspectives and understand each other better. So as we celebrate a new year, let’s enjoy each other’s cultures as a bridge to ease some of the challenges and tensions we face in the world.

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