Ray Perryman, an Waco economist who has studied the economic impact of the arts in Texas, was the keynote speaker at Wednesday’s Arts Advocacy Day. The event drew about 60 arts leaders, who were there to learn more about how they can effectively campaign for greater monetary and media attention for the arts.
After his address to the group, Perryman chatted with Art&Seek about the link between the arts and the economy.
Art&Seek: One of the points you made in your speech is that cutting investment in the arts actually has a trickle down effect to other areas of the economy.
Ray Perryman: Basically, as the economy progresses over time, things like manufacturing become more productive relative to the arts. That’s because you can always automate more. You can always build something that’s faster – whether it’s a faster computer chip or robotic arm or whatever the case may be. Yet in the process, all of that’s driven by creativity. And the creative process doesn’t lend itself to automation at the same level. The classic example is you can’t get two people to play a string quartet. It’s going to be a long time before we get that efficient. So the bottom line is: Unless you have a dedicated effort to make sure that the arts are invested in, they’re going to lag behind everything else. The paradox is that if that happens for a long enough period of time, then you’ve choked off the creative process that allows all those other great things to happen.
A&S: What’s your advice to arts groups as they try to advocate for themselves?
R.P.: I think the critical thing is to try to keep the programming aspects of it as focused and together as possible. If you have to decrease quantity, try to improve quality. If you can possibly get by with cutting administrative expenses, bringing in more volunteers, those kinds of things – anything that keeps the outreach and the focus and the creative aspect of it going, it’s very important to try and do those things during [tough] times. And also, use it as an opportunity to look for creative opportunities to do things that may well pay dividends down the road.
A&S: Tough times can often be an incubator for creativity.
R.P.: Back in the Great Depression, when Franklin Roosevelt set up the Works Progress Administration, one of the things he put people to work doing was painting murals in various places. Two of the young artists who got jobs painting murals were named Willem De Kooning and Jackson Pollock – who are two of the greatest American artists of our time. And yet they got their start when they were literally starving painting murals for the WPA. There’re those kinds of stories that go on throughout history – you find these great stories of difficult times leading to creativity.
A&S: Your 2001 study on the economic impact of the arts in Texas has been cited by virtually anyone trying to increase or maintain arts funding. Have you thought about updating it?
R.P.: We think about it from time to time or taking it to a different level – going beyond just the state of Texas. The basic results – which kind of dove deep into the creative process – have been used all over the world and all over the country by groups. So we’ve thought about doing that. It’s a huge amount of effort, and so I’m not sure exactly when we may take that on. But it’s certainly something we think about from time to time.