On Preserving a Vital Part of Ourselves: Museums Make the Case for Funding Arts and Humanities
By: Max Barton, Executive Director, Canton Museum of Art / Joseph J. Feltes, Chair, Board of Directors, Canton Museum of Art / Alexandra Nicholis Coon, Executive Director, Massillon Museum / David Schultz, Chair, Board of/Directors, Massillon Museum
The arts and cultural industry is an economic engine, a $704 billion industry that represents 4.2 percent of our nation’s GDP. Museums are a critical component of that engine, contributing $21 billion a year to the U.S. economy and sustaining more than 400,000 jobs. With funding support from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), and many other programs, including affiliate state agencies such as the Ohio Arts Council (OAC) and Ohio Humanities (OH), museums and other arts organizations contribute to our education, cultural identity, and quality of life. If these resources cease to exist, as proposed in the recent budget blue-print submitted by the president to Congress, the loss will be felt right here in our communities—we lose both economically and culturally, and we also lose a piece of ourselves.
Museums preserve our heritage. They are gathering places to meet, explore, and discuss how the past has/can influence the present and the future. Museums influence how individuals view the world. Museums become rallying points for cities and their citizens. Museums are, indeed, where art meets life—igniting creativity, fueling educational development, engaging social awareness and action, sparking innovation, and building communities.
Did you know that museums of all types and sizes are, at their core, direct educational institutions? Did you know that museums all across the country are essential to our educational infrastructure, investing more than $2 billion annually in educational programs for people of all ages, or that students who attend museum field trips demonstrate improved critical thinking skills, teamwork, and tolerance? Most educational programs focus on PreK-12 students, including more than 55 million visits to museums by American schoolchildren each year—often the first time they are experiencing art. Many of our institutions bring exhibits and curriculum-based art programs directly inside classrooms across the country. And for homeschoolers, museums are often quite literally the classroom.
These are just a few of the reasons to “preserve, protect, and defend” public funding for the arts and humanities.
Here in Stark County, Ohio, the economic, educational, and cultural impact of our museums is considerable. At both the Massillon Museum and Canton Museum of Art, we offer an array of educational programs for our community. Our museums participate in bringing arts lessons to 1,300 preschoolers throughout Stark County as part of the award-winning Artful Living Program. An IMLS grant has allowed Massillon Museum to originate a traveling exhibition of artwork created by a hidden child of the Holocaust, seen by more than 20,000 people across the country. This year, Massillon is hosting the tenth-consecutive Big Read in partnership with Massillon Public Library. Funded by the NEA, this initiative has, since its inception, allowed the Massillon Museum to disperse nearly 25,000 free books throught Stark County; host two living, award-winning, internationally-renowned authors; engage more than 200 high school drama arts students in directing and performing original one-act plays inspired by Big Read novels; and create access to underserved audiences in the community, such as individuals who speak Spanish, and who have low vision. Likewise, recent grants from the NEA, NEH, OAC, and OH helped the Canton Museum of Art to create three original exhibitions that reached more than 21,000 people, created lasting “arts partnerships” with high school students across Stark County, and made the inspiration of art accessible to families and children of all ages through free events designed to help them form a connection with art. This year, the Canton Museum of Art started an “Art for Health and Healing” program in partnership with several community service agencies, using art therapy as a way to help the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of people experiencing trauma, illness, or other challenges. In just under six months, the program has helped more than 400 people across our community.
While museums drive considerable economic activity nationally, here in Stark County they are also investment drivers. Specifically, the Massillon Museum is becoming a catalyst for the city, including its downtown revitalization. With a $5 million expansion underway, funded in part by the State of Ohio, the Museum is adding 15,000 square feet of space for educational programming, exhibitions, community events, and the Paul E. Brown Museum. Not only has this project spurred additional building development in downtown, but we hope a majority of dollars spent on the project will stay in Northeast Ohio, reinvesting in and helping to secure jobs for Ohioans.
Museums are a key component of the $171 billion cultural tourism industry. Research shows that museum (and arts) visitors spend more and stay longer than other tourists, boosting our local eateries, hotels, and other Stark County businesses.
We have this impact because museums continue to be extremely popular. The American Alliance of Museums estimates that U.S. museums welcome 850 million visits annually, more than the attendance at all major league sporting events and theme parks combined. Attendance at the Massillon Museum and Canton Museum of Art totaled nearly 70,000 in 2016, including onsite visitors and participants in community outreach programs.
Museums also play another invaluable, if a bit less tangible, role. Museums everywhere collect, preserve, interpret, and exhibit our national heritages—historical, cultural, natural, and scientific. Where else can you go to see P.T. Barnum’s solid gold-tipped cane, or a bronze RMS Carpathia medal presented to a crew member of the ship sent to rescue survivors of the Titanic, than at the Massillon Museum? Visitors of all ages can be transformed by their experience or interaction with an historical object, a specimen, or by a work of art. The Canton Museum of Art’s collection is home to nearly 1,200 acclaimed works by American masters such as John Singer Sargent, Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper, Viola Fry, Andy Warhol, and many more. We are charged with showcasing and protecting these cultural treasures now and for future generations—inspiring all to explore, dream, learn, and be inspired by great art.
If you appreciate our museums here in Stark County and across our region, you can lend your voice to preserve, protect, and defend public funding for the arts, and museums. Visit the Americans for the Arts website ( http://www.americansforthearts.org/ ) and/or the American Alliance of Museums’ website ( http://www.aam-us.org/ ) to find customizable messages to Congress that you can send with just a few clicks. Remember, Congress determines the federal budget and appropriations each year—so it is important that our representatives hear from you!
All of us at the Massillon Museum and the Canton Museum of Art are deeply grateful for the support the citizens of Stark County and beyond have shown to us over the years. Thank you for being amazing consumers and strong supporters of our museums, and the arts.