I often hear music educators and other arts educators remark of their work with phrases such as “Music makes you smarter”, or “Music lessons will help you become better at language, or math”. While I understand the passion, I wish they wouldn’t, because music is a good in and of itself! It is not a secondary pursuit in the support of something else, and it is definitely not frivolous.  

In my opinion, it is unhelpful when we as music or arts educators focus on such claims; is it then any surprise that when budget cuts roll around in our schools the first courses to be cut are the arts?  In this line of thinking, if the arts exist to support ‘core’ subjects like math and science, then, of course, administrators will first cut these ‘supporting’ courses. It is a disservice to portray the arts in a supporting role. Instead, we ought to talk about the positive, immediate and primary ways that the arts benefit our lives, and our economy.

  • Music (and the other arts) contributes to our happiness and sense of well being. If you have been to a wedding, you know the music amplifies your sense of joy. If you have suffered a loss, you recall that music has comforted you. If you’ve had a hard day at work, you know that music can make your toils easier. Fortunately, we have all experienced its many positive benefits in this respect.
  • The arts are an important driver of our economy. If you are a pragmatist and the personal and emotional benefits of music aren’t convincing, consider that the creative industries, with 3.2% of US GDP in 2012 ($546 billion) are larger than the the following industry sectors: automotive, aerospace, consumer goods (like your Android or iPhone), machinery and equipment, medical technology, semiconductor, software and IT, textiles, and travel and tourism. Cool that the creative industries make more money than cars, right?
  • As the saying goes, the only thing we are guaranteed are death and taxes. Which brings me to my next point of tax revenue. You cannot deny the tax revenue that music and the arts generate. We don’t live in a vacuum, and the arts are connected to our mode of government. If you think about it, the roads our cars drive on are paved, and the schools our children attend are funded, in part, with revenue from the arts. Perhaps it’s time to thank your local artist for the contribution to these public goods!

While the creative industries are already a significant industry, the actual value of this industry might be larger than the numbers show. While there has been an increase in the volume of music, art, and entertainment produced over the last decade, there has been some slip in the total revenues due to digital piracy since the industry moved to digital rather than mechanical reproduction of works of art. If you value art enough to look or listen, please be sure to compensate their creators. It’s simply the right thing to do. This article on compensation applies to freelancers, but the idea also applies to any creator.

To drum it home, let’s not discourage our youth from studying music and art, or worse, prevent them from doing so by defunding these courses. The arts are good for us as individuals and for our economy as they indirectly fund our public infrastructure and other public services. Let’s instead promote them, for the good that they are in and of  themselves.  Let’s encourage others to be a part of this valuable industry, and this worthwhile pursuit that improves our lives as individuals, and as a society.