A look around Northwest Indiana quickly proves we value the arts. Whether it’s the West Side Theatre Guild in Gary, the Center for Visual and Performing Arts in Munster, the Lubeznik Center for the Arts in Michigan City, the Brauer Museum of Art at Valparaiso University or the sculpture gardens at Indiana University Northwest and Purdue University North Central, we are immersed in a variety of art forms.
Along with countless other area residents, we believe the arts to be essential to our quality of life and that art has a tremendous cultural, social and economic impact on our lives.
In his book “The Rise of the Creative Class,” author Richard Florida states, “Powering the great ongoing changes of our time is the rise of human creativity as the defining feature of economic life.”
During the past two decades, studies have linked arts education and arts participation with cognitive, social and behavioral advantages across the lifespan. Art education has been associated with academic achievement and a lower risk of juvenile delinquency. Later in life, arts engagement has shown the potential to improve brain function, enhance social interaction and benefit overall health.
National Endowment for the Arts studies show students with arts-rich experiences in school do better academically across the board than their peers without these experiences – regardless of their economic status.
Students with high levels of arts engagement from kindergarten through elementary school had higher test scores in science and writing.
High school students who took arts courses achieved higher grade point averages in math than other students, were five times more likely to graduate than those with few or no arts credits and were more likely to aspire to college. Data from The College Board show high school students with four years of arts and music classes scored 98 points better on their SATs than students with a half-year or less.
Arts-engaged students become more active and engaged citizens and are more likely to vote, volunteer and generally participate in their communities than their peers.
Half of all young adults with arts-rich backgrounds anticipated that by age 30 they would be in a career that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics cites as “professional,” such as law, medicine or management.
In contrast, only 21 percent of the low-arts group anticipated such careers.
In older adults, arts engagement appears to encourage physical and mental stimulation, social engagement and reduces stress. This not only affects one’s quality of life but the eventual need for additional health care.
Similarly, nearly half of the nation’s health care institutions provide arts programming for patients, families and even staff. The healing benefits of these programs mean shorter hospital stays, better pain management and less medication.
The arts also have a significant economic impact.
Indiana has about 13,570 arts-related businesses, employing 53,000 people in areas of the performing arts, music, art design, photography, film, radio, TV, interior design, art services and museums, reports Americans For The Arts. These businesses play an important role in our state’s social and economic stability.
Locally the arts helped fuel the revitalization of the Michigan City north end. With its galleries, boutiques and restaurants, the Uptown Arts District comes alive the first Friday of the month, creating cultural, business and social opportunities.
Therefore, the results of a University of Pennsylvania study should come as no surprise. Researchers found a high concentration of the arts in a city leads to higher civic engagement, more social cohesion and lower poverty rates.
The One Region, One Vision for Northwest Indiana’s Quality of Life findings during the past decade consistently reflect that arts and culture are critical to the region’s economic and civic future. Creative solutions to the challenges we face will require the abilities, skills, habits and knowledge that arts and cultural experiences are uniquely able to provide.
James Dworkin is chancellor of Purdue University North Central. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times.