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This Week in PubHub: The Essential Role of Arts and Culture

October 14, 2010

(Kyoko Uchida manages PubHub, the Foundation Center's online catalog of foundation-sponsored publications. In her last post, she looked at four reports that examine issues related to mental health and juvenile justice.)

October is Funding for the Arts Month at the Foundation Center, and as we do every October PubHub is featuring arts and culture-themed reports. Since the onset of the economic downturn, however, the number of foundation-sponsored publications about arts and culture seems to have fallen off. Could it be that, in a world of reduced resources and growing demand for emergency assistance of all kinds, the arts are now perceived as a luxury? Let's hope not. As the four reports highlighted below show, the arts are essential to the civic health and vitality of society.

Neuroeducation: Learning, Arts, and the Brain, a 2009 report from the Dana Foundation, summarizes recent research that demonstrates a correlation between early exposure to the arts and improvements in cognitive ability, attention span, and learning. Among other things, a well-designed arts-based pedagogy is thought to enhance students' engagement with and retention of content, emotional involvement in the learning process, social awareness, and ability to apply abstract concepts across disciplines. The critical question is how to translate neuroscience into classroom strategies that maximize the benefits of arts education. The implications for education policy and practice, the report concludes, include more collaboration between teachers and researchers, greater dissemination of proven strategies, more cultivation of "lab" schools, and better analysis of individual art forms for measurable outcomes.

One measurable outcome is high school graduation rates. According to the Center for Arts Education report Staying in School: Arts Education and New York City High School Graduation Rates, data suggest a direct correlation between graduation rates and resources for and access to arts education. Indeed, the top third of high schools with the best graduation rates had significantly more certified arts teachers, more classrooms dedicated to the arts, more arts-related courses, more and deeper partnerships with arts and cultural groups, and more sponsored field trips than schools in the bottom third. Citing findings that arts education can deter delinquent behavior and improve academic performance among at-risk students, the report recommends expanding arts education offerings, enhancing student access to the city's arts industry, and ensuring that all schools have certified arts teachers and dedicated classroom space for the arts.

The arts do not exist in a vacuum, of course, and artists often face obstacles that affect their work and limit their freedom of expression. One of these, as described in Untold Stories in South Africa: Creative Consequences of the Rights Clearance Culture for Documentary Filmmakers, a report from the Black Filmmakers Network, Documentary Filmmakers' Association, and American University, is the culture of fear surrounding the use of copyrighted material such as news footage. Among other things, the authors of the report argue that artists must be informed of their rights and best practices for fair-use dissemination if diverse viewpoints are to be heard.

According to Promoting Public and Private Reinvestment in Cultural Exchange-Based Diplomacy, a new report from the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, arts and culture are also an essential component of public diplomacy. The study reviews the decline of U.S. cultural engagement on the global stage since the 1990s -- of the fifty-one private and corporate foundations that supported international arts exchange in 1994, the report notes, thirty-two no longer do so -- and makes the case for renewed investment in cultural exchange as a means of promoting dialogue and greater mutual understanding.

What are your thoughts about the role of arts and culture in the current educational, social, economic, and global environment? Which benefits of arts and culture programming are most important to measure, and how should such measurement be funded? And how, if at all, is the role of foundations with respect to the arts and arts funding changing?

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below. And be sure to check out PubHub, where you can browse nearly four hundred additional reports related to arts and culture.

-- Kyoko Uchida

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