By Aubrey Hobart
Roswell Museum and Art Center
Curator of Collections
A couple of years ago, the TV show “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” had an episode where Danny DeVito’s character, Frank, had to go to an art gallery and pretend to be a wealthy collector. In order to fit in with the people he assumed would be there, Frank donned an all-black outfit and a white Andy Warhol wig before waltzing dramatically into the space, calling all the artworks terrible, and waxing poetic about the air-conditioning unit instead. It’s a funny scene, but it reinforces an unfortunate stereotype that galleries, museums and art are only for snooty rich people with questionable taste. Fortunately, in the real world, art is not just a luxury for an elite few; it’s for everyone.
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During the COVID-19 shut-downs, museums weren’t on the list of essential services because they aren’t required for our immediate survival. However, museums, and the art inside them, provide a number of important public services that aren’t always immediately obvious. In a world where facts and figures are easily accessible to anyone with a computer, the people who will succeed in life are those who can go beyond the facts to interpret findings, connect with colleagues, leverage social skills, act as creative problem-solvers, and take risks. According to Edward Fiske, author of “Champions of Change: The Impact of the Arts on Learning” (1999), those positive qualities come from a study of the arts. Additional benefits include an increase in brain plasticity, IQ score and focus. Even one hour spent in an art museum can increase a person’s empathy and tolerance toward others, and triggers a surge of the pleasure chemical dopamine in the brain.
Art is also great for people who have health concerns. In one study, Dr. Arnold Bresky found that 70% of people with dementia experience improvements in their memory when they draw or paint. He suspects that these activities increase connectivity between the right and left hemispheres of the brain and help grow new brain cells. Making art also helps reduce stress, allows people to express their feelings, and can give chronically ill patients a sense of achievement while allowing them to maintain the identity of who they were before they got sick. In fact, the arts can offer all kinds of unexpected healing benefits, including shorter hospital stays, better pain management, and helping stroke and head trauma patients regain their ability to speak.
In prisons, participation in the arts helps reduce recidivism rates, meaning that prisoners who are involved in art are less likely to re-offend when they get out of jail. The arts also create lower tension levels throughout prison facilities as inmates learn to communicate better, which results in a safer environment for everyone. Additionally, prisoners who engage with the arts are more likely to be thoughtful, self-confident, motivated and socially competent, so they can find jobs after they’ve served their time.
When it comes to the economy, the arts are important there, too. The number one attribute sought by companies today is creativity, and many hiring directors are complaining that they don’t see it in the candidates who have come through business school. The arts drive tourism and improve the quality of life in our communities. Cities with higher concentrations of the arts tend to have less poverty, more civic engagement, and social cohesion, even among people with differing beliefs.
The city of Roswell is fortunate to have the arts community that it does. From the performing arts, like our symphony, playhouses and dance companies, to the fine arts, represented by the Roswell Artist-in-Residence program, the Roswell Museum and Art Center, the Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art, Main Street Arts, Bone Springs Art Center and the Creative Learning Center that serves our elementary schools, we have an opportunity to improve the happiness, health, education and economic prospects of everyone in our town, including children, families, seniors, young professionals, artists of all levels, people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, people from every class and neighborhood, people of all genders and sexualities, people with various physical and mental challenges, people who enjoy looking at interesting things, and people who want to know more about the world they live in.
U.S. citizens need the arts if we want this country to stay relevant on the global stage. Our second president and Founding Father, John Adams, understood this evolution. In 1780, he wrote a letter to his wife that said, “I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine.” Even 240 years ago, Adams knew that the arts represent the future of our society, and are the best gift we can give to our children and grandchildren.