The Starting Five, 2/3/2015

 

What does it take to turn a skeptic into a believer? In

the case of Richard Muller, a physics professor at the

University of California at Berkeley, the answer is research.

Muller had pooh-poohed the claims of other scientists

about climate change. In fact, his climate change skepticism was so robust he

attracted the support of the infamous Charles Koch Charitable Foundation,

bankrolled by the right-wing billionaire, which reinforced Muller's skepticism

through grant-funding.

But, to his credit, Muller's interest in learning

about life on earth trumped his opinions and, along with a team of researchers,

he ran the numbers on what's been happening to the earth's temperature over the

past 250 years. "I concluded that global warming was real," wrote Muller

last week in the New York Time

s, "and that prior estimates of the

rate of warming were correct. I'm now going a step further," he added.

"Humans are almost entirely the cause."

Bravo, Professor Muller. It may have taken

you awhile to get with the hundreds of other scientists who have found that

evidence of the human impact on our climate is beyond a reasonable doubt, but,

once the evidence was coughed up in a way you could appreciate, you were

willing to change your mind. That's a step in the right direction.

But this column isn't about climate change. It's about

the arts. That's right, the arts.

Americans For the Arts

has been studying the economic impact the arts have on communities. They

traveled around the country and crunched numbers in 182 regions to learn how

the arts business affects the places where it lives.

I call it the arts "business," because

business is what it is. Yes, the arts that were the focus of this research

operate in what we call the "not-for-profit" sector of the economy.

But that doesn't mean they don't provide people with jobs, or that the ripple

effect they create doesn't put money in the pockets of a host of other workers,

from parking lot attendants to bartenders.

According to the Americans for the Arts research, the

Indianapolis nonprofit arts and culture industry generated $384,244,432 in

total expenditures in 2010. It supported 13,136 jobs.

These are serious numbers, particularly when you

consider that this city's annual budget for arts support is a comparatively

paltry $1.3 million.

Like the vast majority of scientists who have been

warning us about climate change, many of us so-called "arts

supporters" have been waving our hands and jumping up and down about the

positive impact public investment in the arts brings to Indianapolis. We've

talked about how every dollar spent for the arts generates even more dollars

that get translated into revenue for state and local government, as well as

local businesses and, last but not least, the workers who actually make dances

and plays and paintings.

This positive return on investment has existed for

years. As a matter of fact, I wrote about it when Americans for the Arts

released its

last economic impact study in the pre-recession year of 2005, when the numbers

were even better.

The trouble is, the people who make policy around here

either ignore these numbers, or flat-out deny them. This is odd, since these

people are supposed to be trying to find cost-effective ways to spend public

money. Ways, that is, that bring Indianapolis the biggest bang for its buck.

These are the people now stumping for Indianapolis to

host another Super Bowl. Man, oh, man, they say, that Super Bowl was the best.

Indianapolis looked great on national TV. The talking heads on ESPN raved about

our walkable Downtown, and it was a blast seeing

celebrities like Lance Bass and Alyssa Milano — if that's who they were

— outside Buca di Beppo. How major league can you get?

Look, if it takes a Super Bowl to get the city to

finally address a previously neglected neighborhood like East 10th

Street, that is truly great. If throwing another Super Bowl in 2018 gets us

something like a halfway decent public transit system, I'm all for it.

In the end, though, according to The

Indianapolis Star, the

Super Bowl actually lost the city $1.3 million

— the equivalent,

ironically, of what it allocates for the arts.

This, however, is not a problem. "It's not just

numbers, it's the city's brand," said Ann Lathrop, president of the Capital Improvement Board.

She told WISH-TV that the loss still managed to be "a pretty good return

on investment."

OK, fine. I guess you have to spend

money to make money — or maybe that's lose money. Whatever.

The thing is, year after year, in study after study,

research shows that the arts return more on investment than almost anything

else we spend our money on. This fact, however, has not prevented Indianapolis

from investing less in the arts than almost any other city of comparable size

in the nation.

When it comes to the arts, Indianapolis is like those

people who keep saying climate change is just a myth. How much longer will we

deny the research before we do something that actually makes things better?

Read more about the Arts

& Economic Prosperity IV

study at .AmericansForTheArts.org.

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