Lee Ann Adams
Executive Director, Association of Arts Administration Educators (AAAE)
Arts administrators are the unsung heroes of the art world, and now they’re asking their legislators to increase support for arts education.
Every March, right before the cherry blossoms reach peak bloom, hundreds of arts leaders from across the country gather at Americans for the Arts’ National Arts Action Summit in Washington D.C. They are there to advocate for increased public funding for the arts and strong public policies, including arts education policies at the federal, state, and local levels. Many of these arts administrators come together to hear the latest research on the benefits of arts education and learn how to synthesize the extensive research into digestible talking points through advocacy training.
On the final day of the summit, arts administrators assemble at Capitol Hill, where they meet with their local legislators. Among the most important and persuasive arguments these leaders emphasize to representatives is that high school students from under-resourced environments who are highly involved in the arts have better grades, are less likely to drop out, and are more likely to go on to college. Other important points include the report that students in arts programming had better attendance, fewer disciplinary issues and improved behavior relative to comparison students, that arts-engaged high school students enroll in four-year colleges at higher rates than low-arts-engaged students, and that multiple research studies suggest that the arts play a critical role in preparing students for work and life overall.
In March of 2020, arts administrators are lobbying for legislators to appropriate $40 million to the U.S. Department of Education’s Assistance for Arts Education (AAE) Program. This plan promotes the arts as part of a well-rounded education for all students, including disadvantaged students and students with disabilities. The AAE has received consistent bipartisan support from Congress year after year, perhaps in part thanks to the passionate and tireless advocacy of arts administrators.
Arts organizations and their administrators understand that their very survival depends on children developing a life-long love and appreciation of the arts. The next generation of artists, performers, arts leaders, patrons and donors will be cultivated through rich and early arts learning experiences. Students attending arts-rich high schools are more likely to end up in arts-related careers. According to the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP), a national survey of 92,000 alumni administered by the Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research, alumni of arts-intensive high schools are more likely continue with careers in the arts. This fact is widely known by arts organizations, and should be good news for parents of budding Picassos who are worried about their child’s career prospects. In fact, careers in the arts are increasingly abundant and lucrative. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) recently reported that the arts contribute $763.6 billion to the U.S. economy (more than agriculture, transportation, or warehousing), and the arts employ 4.9 million workers across the country with earnings of more than $370 billion.
Just as the world needs inspired and talented artists to produce art and appreciative consumers to value it, society also needs creative and resourceful arts administrators to run arts and cultural organizations. These leaders run museums, curate galleries, manage arts councils, engage youth arts centers, start foundations and direct orchestras, operas and theatres. Arts administrators play no small part in the U.S. economy and the culture more broadly, making their advocacy that much more important.