Why We Need to Invest in Texas Arts

by Heidi Marquez Smith

This number highlights our need to invest in our creative industry long-term. What better way to inspire our next generation than by prioritizing arts education?

As someone who had access to the arts from a young age, I know the benefits of cultural exposure are both quantifiable and priceless. Born in El Paso to an immigrant father, I was encouraged by my parents to celebrate our Mexican heritage through music, dance, and food. I was fortunate to receive arts education, spending my days in music classes, taking drawing lessons, and learning ballet folklorico, classical ballet, and tap. The arts gave me confidence and a sense of belonging.

The 2019 State of the Arts Report showed that students enrolled in arts courses attend school more regularly and have up to 15% higher pass rates on standardized tests. Students with even one arts credit were twice as likely to stay in school, and those with access to arts classes performed better academically, leading to an 11% increase in college enrollment.

While the arts are fun and engaging, they also teach fundamental lessons necessary for academic and professional success, which helps to build and prepare the 21st-century workforce. It takes hard work and discipline to learn choreography. It takes grit and determination to assess a sketch after spending hours drawing and decide to start over to make it better.

The arts are effective educational tools, but not all Texans enjoy access to them equally. Art Can’s interactive map (available at artcantexas.org/map) charts how arts education access is distributed in school districts across Texas and shows that generally, rural areas are not getting the same level of arts support as metro areas. Even within urban cities like Austin, the amount of funding, student-to-fine arts teacher ratio, and the number of arts classes being offered can vary widely from district to district. The site makes it easy to map inequities and reach out to legislators and school districts to take action for the arts.

It’s simple mathematics. In Austin, where our tourism and cultural capital are linked to the art of keeping things weird, creative employment makes up 11% of our workforce and that number is expected to rise. By 2026, the creative employment workforce is projected to increase to 17% or 144,000 new jobs.

Businesses are moving here for our rich cultural offerings and way of life. The more we invest in the arts of Texas, the greater our profit: historically, culturally, and financially. In 2017, Texas’ travel and tourism industry surpassed $75 billion, a number resulting largely from arts and culture-driven tourism. Arts and culture tourists stay longer when visiting, bring more people, and spend more money than non-culture tourists in Texas. This makes it clear that the arts in Texas not only benefit our people but our economy, as well.

Through the Art Can research, we are finding that the arts work for Texas. A thriving future lies ahead if we embrace and sustainably support the limitless potential the arts hold for all Texans.

Marquez Smith is the executive director of the Austin-based nonprofit Texas Cultural Trust.

Smith, H. M. (2019, June 1). Opinion: Why we need to invest in Texas arts. Retrieved from https://www.statesman.com/opinion/20190531/opinion-why-we-need-to-invest-in-texas-arts