“Let’s get the job done,” President Biden stated multiple times in his State of the Union speech. He highlighted a litany of challenges, from job creation to healthy competition with China, from climate change to police reform, all of which are indeed pressing issues facing America today. But what was missing? Absent from Biden’s remarks was any reference at all to the industry that could help tackle most of the problems he listed: arts and culture. Investment in the arts could curb inflation, create more sustainable communities (both rural and urban), and improve American global soft power to compete with the threat from China.
Art is not a popular political platform in 2023, I’m well aware. Imagine if President Biden had introduced a platform of “elevating arts and culture”? The heckling would have surpassed even Tuesday night’s reality. Politicians scream past each other and into the 24-hour news cycle about inflation, police reform, FBI raids, abortion, climate change, and immigration. What we could be doing, however, is harnessing the creative economy (a term we use to incorporate not only arts and culture, but also the adjacent industries reliant upon arts and culture) to create jobs and tackle the problems outlined in the State of the Union. With this strategy, proposed solutions could be sped up, finely-tuned, and hyper-focused with the creative industry as a solution-based partner.
There are more than 4.6 million creative industry workers in our country (an economic force equivalent to the airline industry) and the sector contributes $877 billion to the GDP, which is more than transportation, utilities, or education – in fact, more than agriculture and mining combined. It comprises a demographic that includes painters and poets, but also construction workers, fashion designers, consultants, and mental health care workers. Arts and culture is an ecosystem that, when appropriately leveraged, brings innovative problem-solving skills to all industries.
Our cultural ecosystem is responsible for far more than providing just entertainment, enrichment, and pleasure in our lives. Arts and culture are also an overlooked economic engine for small towns, suburbs, and big cities alike.
Though few studies exist to prove it as yet (something 4A Arts plans to change,) it’s clear that investing in arts and culture results in huge returns. One study in Chicago found that in “the Loop” neighborhood, for every dollar spent on a theater or concert ticket, $12 of revenue was generated for the Loop economy at large. In the United Kingdom, it was found that for every £1 of taxpayer money that funded its national Arts Council, the Council returned £5; in 2013, that amounted to an added £2.35 billion in the UK national treasury.
And as for Biden’s main talking points? Can investment in arts and culture really help ease skyrocketing inflation, improve a crumbling infrastructure, or the loss of jobs overseas?
Without a doubt.
Today’s inflation rate is a new phenomenon, distinct from the supply issues or rising manufacturing costs of the past. Instead, it’s overwhelmingly caused by the concentration of American industry into a few major players, who are raking in record profits despite consumers struggling to make ends meet.
A robust investment into small businesses in the creative economy could create new innovators in nearly every field, offering Americans more options and forcing large corporations to lower costs in order to compete. Arts and culture businesses are highly likely to be rated as “substantive innovators”; artists are 3.6 times more likely than average to be self-employed; and the characteristics that define arts workers – creativity, innovation, and curiosity – “are vital for starting a new [entrepreneurial] venture.” And infrastructure and jobs? Consider how Cleveland revitalized its decaying Waterloo Road, or how local sign designers were put to work in Covington, Kentucky, eventually leading to the establishment of six new small businesses downtown. And this isn’t limited to cities and urban areas; rural America stands to gain from cultural investment more than any other area. “You can do all the infrastructure investment but if you aren’t doing cultural investment you will not have a sustainable community,” says Charles Fluharty, CEO of the Rural Policy Research Institute (RUPRI).
Investing in the arts isn’t just a positive boon; there is a steep cost in failing to do so. While America successfully employed soft power in curbing authoritarianism via the post-WWII Marshall Plan and other creative exchange initiatives throughout the Cold War era, the U.S. fell year after year in the Soft Power 30 Report that evaluates 30 countries’ ability to use “positive attraction and persuasion to achieve foreign policy objectives” rather than relying on military might and economic incentives. The growing threat of China’s influence makes it essential that America regain that lost ground. Financially supporting the creativity and self-expression that inspires people around the world and supports freer democracy could help us combat the progress made by China under Xi Jinping, who has vastly outpaced American investment in soft power to “deepen cooperation in education, science, culture, sports, tourism, health, and archaeology.”
But the benefits don’t stop there. We could help slow climate change by employing artists to increase awareness and comprehension of the ramifications and potential solutions to a warming earth. We could lower medical bills with art that helps speed recuperation, lower barriers to mental health treatment, and slow cognitive decline. We could address police reform through bridge-building programs bringing together police and neighborhood children in theatrical improvisation activities helping develop empathy, appreciation, active listening, and curiosity skills.
And I can’t possibly list all the resources proving that arts education helps all areas of education. But here’s one reference for starters.
President Biden envisions a blue collar plan to rebuild America – from the bottom up and the middle out. The 4.6 million creative workers in the United States of America stand ready to “get the job done”. For too long, Republicans and Democrats have dismissed the arts and culture sector as a frivolous luxury when in reality, the creative economy creates jobs, lowers crime, increases the return on educational investments, is a vital part of American identity and self-expression, and (lest we forget) brings joy to millions. American artistic expression and creativity should not be relegated to a privilege limited to celebrities, dead painters, and trust funds masquerading as “starving artists.” Rather, creative types in small towns, suburbs, and big cities can help systemic problems challenging our entire populations, regardless of the color of the collar.
Elena K. Holy is proud to join the 4A movement as General Manager. Her 30+ year arts management career includes NYC’s non-profit Roundabout Theatre Company, commercial Broadway and Off-Broadway at Richard Frankel Productions, and founding and running The Present Theatre Company, where she co-created the New York International Fringe Festival (FringeNYC). FringeNYC was once the largest multi-arts festival in North America – with an all-volunteer staff of 100 people, 2500+ additional volunteers, and 5000 artists representing 200 companies from all over the world, and producing nearly 1100 performances annually, with many now-famous alumni and productions.
As Producer, Holy was awarded the 1997 New York Magazine Award for her “creativity, vision and enterprise”. In 2006, she was named one of New York Magazine’s “Influentials” because she “turned the Fringe Festival, which she founded in 1996, into Sundance for the theater crowd – a place where anyone with an idea and a tiny budget can get noticed. Urinetown, the 1999 Fringe musical that made it to Broadway and won three Tonys, is the most extreme example, but more than a dozen Fringe shows have gone on to significant Off Broadway runs. Her triumph: retaining the fest’s brilliant lunacy amid commercial success.”
Other achievements include the 2007 Mayor’s Award for Arts & Culture, serving as a Tony Awards Nominator from 2008, and being named an Indie Theater Hall of Fame “Person of the Decade” in 2015. As FringeNYC ended (and the pandemic began) she became Interim Managing Director at SHADOWLAND STAGES in beautiful Ellenville, New York where she and husband Kevin share a home with their two westies, Daisy and JuneBug. She serves as Treasurer for the local Chamber of Commerce and is an active member of her community.
Working as the Communications and Marketing Coordinator of 4A Arts fulfills Alex Carrillo’s dream to bring his knowledge of the entertainment industry to the broader arts and culture world. Born in Oakland, CA and raised in the Tri-Cities of Washington state, Alex envisaged himself exiting generational poverty and eventually working in the music industry.
After high school, without scholarships, funding, or other support to help him reach his goals, he enlisted in the U.S. military in 2013, joining the Army Infantry. Alex received his basic training in Fort Benning, Georgia before being stationed in Fort Drum, New York, where he proudly became a member of 4-31 Charlie Company, the Mountain Division (the world’s best kept secret). In 2015, Alex was deployed to Afghanistan in a classified combat war zone through early 2016.
After his time in the service, Alex returned home to seek his college degree. He enrolled at The Los Angeles Recording School, a division of the Los AngelesFilm School, where he received his associate’s degree in Music Production and bachelor’s in Entertainment Business.
While still studying at the L.A. Recording School, Alex landed a publishing deal with Position Music, earning his music a place in the Netflix movie Moxie and in the video game NBA2k22 with his album Locked In.
After receiving his Bachelor’s degree, Alex began working on the business side of the industry, managing artists, performing social and digital marketing, and distribution, among other duties. Alex joined 4A Arts in the summer of 2022, bringing those talents to the nonprofit world.
Whitney S. Christiansen is a native Kentuckian with an interdisciplinary background in arts, education, and advocacy. She spent nearly a decade teaching secondary English and drama in public schools, receiving a master’s in Interdisciplinary Humanities from the University of Louisville in 2017, where she received that year’s Grady Nutt Award for the year’s most creative directed study project, “Summoned,” an interdisciplinary practicum that combined research on medieval morality plays and Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus with contemporary concepts of costume and set design. From 2009-2015 she was a cast member and later director for the Kentucky Highland Renaissance Festival, where she inaugurated and directed the festival’s teen cast, who developed two stage shows in the commedia dell’arte tradition.
Leaving the classroom in 2019, Whitney received her second master’s degree from Colorado State University in Arts Leadership and Cultural Management, where she began working with Be An #ArtsHero, a grassroots campaign dedicated to bringing COVID relief to Arts Workers (now Arts Workers United.) She was the researcher on staff for AWU’s lobbying team for the U.S. House Small Business Committee’s January 2022 hearing on the creative economy, and for Ovation TV’s The Green Room with Nadia Brown, an educational comedy show about the creative economy that launched in March of 2022. Formerly the general manager of the Center for Music Ecosystems, Whitney heads up 4A Arts’ new research initiative alongside her work managing central operations.
Actor, entrepreneur, political strategist, and father of two, Gavin Lodge comes to 4A Arts with a unique perspective on arts and culture in America. A 20-year veteran of stage and screen, Gavin grew up in suburban Colorado and traversed the country in his work with political campaigns at the senate and presidential levels as well as touring for shows.
After studying international affairs and philosophy at the University of Colorado, he worked as a field organizer in the Iowa Caucus followed by the role of “body guy” to then-candidate Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington State. Politics empowered him to move to New York City to pursue a performing career. Ultimately, he performed in multiple Broadway shows (including 42nd Street, Spamalot, and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert) as well as regional theater, national tours and several network television appearances.
Though he was thrilled every time he stepped onto a theatrical or sound stage, Gavin was equally happy to take on leadership roles in his local union and later his kids’ PTA.
With the Covid-19 pandemic, Gavin jumped back into the political realm, working as a strategist for Bryson Gillette, a minority-owned PR firm focused on politics and public affairs. He also volunteered for Be an #ArtsHero, an arts advocacy movement blossoming during the first few months of the pandemic. During his time with Be an #ArtsHero, he was part of a team that successfully lobbied for a first-of-its-kind hearing on the creative economy in front of the House of Representatives Small Business Committee.
Gavin lives in rural Connecticut with his partner (a composer and orchestral conductor), his TikTok-dancing daughter (who is musically gifted in unparalleled ways) and his soccer-playing son who recently told him “Dad? I’m just not into concerts and theater stuff.” As he told his son, Gavin believes there is much more to American arts and culture than “concerts and theater stuff.” From the video games his son loves to play to low-rider paint jobs to streaming television series while sitting on the couch, Gavin sees American arts and culture as an inclusive, “big tent” spectrum where everyone is an artist and everyone is a member of an audience.