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IN THE NEWS: Alumnus Argues 'Why Art Matters'

The following story appears in the February 25 issue of the Argus Leader:

Advocate: Cutting arts funding hurts economy

Cutting the arts from state and national budgets is a bad idea because arts events generate a lot of money for cities and states, arts advocate Bob Booker said Thursday in Sioux Falls.

The executive director of the Arizona Commission on the Arts, the state's arts agency, spoke at the Augustana Thought Leader Forum at CJ Callaway's. Booker encouraged South Dakota arts advocates to not be shy about speaking up in opposition to programs being slashed from budgets.

"Arts have an incredible economic impact. In Phoenix, the nonprofit arts organizations contribute $300 million to the city's economy," said Booker, a Sioux Falls native and 1977 Augustana College graduate. "Tourism, theater productions, performer salaries, restaurants the audience attends before or after events and more all add up. Don't be shy, quiet or reserved in support of the arts."

Rob Oliver, Augustana College president, agrees.

"I think that the electorate has a lot more confidence in education and the arts than our elected officials think we do," Oliver told the audience following Booker's talk. "Why might that be? Maybe it's because we're just too quiet, and because there are other voices speaking louder than ours."

To put a dollar figure on what the arts do for the community, the Sioux Falls Arts Council has joined in a two-year national survey, Nan Baker, executive director, said after the talk.

The council joined the national Arts & Economic Prosperity research study being conducted by Americans for the Arts. It will evaluate the effect spending by nonprofit arts organizations and their audiences have on the regional economy.

"Like Bob said, we need to be the art advocates," Baker said. "And our study will show people that for every dollar they invest toward the arts, the economic return for our local economy is 'X' number of dollars."

Beyond the money arts generate, there's great value in the happiness and fulfillment a concert, visual arts exhibit or theater show brings, Booker said. And arts and education are powerful in other ways, too, he said, teaching young people about history, culture and civilization.

Unless someone has experience attending an event and having an emotional reaction, they don't know what the arts are about, he said.

"Unfortunately we have generations of kids who don't have that experience," Booker said. "We have leaders in our Legislature, the governors' offices and Washington who haven't had that experience, to know the value of the arts."