The Best, Most Creative Leaders in Any Field Have a Background in the Arts

by Texas Cultural Trust

As Andy Warhol once said, “Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.” For those of us whose experience lies in economic theory vs. paint theory, there’s a very strong case for why arts education in Texas schools curricula deserves our support. It’s good business to hire creative thinkers.

During my career in corporate law, I had the opportunity to interview and hire a significant number of attorneys. Creative thinking skills were always highly valued. As I became better acquainted with an attorney who possessed these skills, I often found that there was some connection to the arts in that person’s background. That this anecdotal experience was repeated in so many instances reinforces the studies that suggest early arts education fosters increased creativity. And, according to the Texas Cultural Trust’s 2019 State of the Arts Report, access to arts education improves students’ overall academic performance. This leads to an 11.5% increase in college enrollment immediately following high school graduation, creating a better prepared workforce.

These are impressive figures, but I’m equally interested in the less quantifiable, long-term benefits of arts training. It’s not just for people who are passionate about it or have artistic talents.

A key and often overlooked benefit of exposure to the arts is that it fosters out-of-the-box thinking skills. These skills, such as creativity, innovation, critical thinking, problem-solving, communication and collaboration, are precisely what we need to build a stronger workforce, a report from the Partnership for 21st Century Learning found. These are traits of leadership, and we should not miss any opportunity to nurture and develop these skills.

I’ve personally seen this link between arts education and great leadership in action. When facing a tough challenge from a law standpoint, I’ve always sought out innovative, imaginative people. They’re the ones you want to gather in a conference room to brainstorm solutions that no one has thought of before. They’re the ones who can see beyond what’s right in front of them to solve complex business and legal problems.

While many articles, books and studies on leadership document the value of creativity and communication, it is good policy to see this emphasized in our state’s curriculum. A greater investment in arts education will help our businesses thrive, fueled by a workforce that is adaptable, creative and prepared for a rapidly changing world.

You don’t have to be a season ticket holder at the opera or a regular visitor to the museum to take part in the arts’ impact on our future. Decision makers should direct their attention to making arts education more widely accessible and equitable in our schools and at an early stage of personal development. Doing what we can to develop well-rounded leaders for the future is not just smart business and good policy — it is our responsibility.

Any opportunities we can give our children to build creative leadership skills will pay great dividends down the line, not only by enhancing our workforce, but by enabling even more successful leaders to emerge.

The Texas leaders of today must protect arts education to ensure the successful leaders of tomorrow. With so many education initiatives pulling attention and resources, we cannot neglect the importance of the arts in educating the whole child.

Charles Matthews is a former vice president and general counsel for Exxon Mobil Corp. and a board member for Texas Cultural Trust. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.

Matthews, C. (2019, August 2). The best, most creative leaders in any field have a background in the arts. Retrieved from