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Tuesday, May 24, 2005 | Arts and culture make a community interesting, dynamic and more economically vibrant. We live in a region blessed with near-perfect weather and abundant outdoor recreational opportunities, but these represent just a fraction of what affects our quality of life. Although there are many pieces that influence how we view our lives, certainly arts and culture is part of that puzzle. Imagine not being able to attend a theatre performance, spend an afternoon at a community festival, hear an orchestra perform Beethoven’s 5th symphony or visit an art museum.

The city of San Diego has been a role model when it comes to public funding for the arts. However, this week the city will address funding cuts to its Commission for Arts and Culture, which has worked to support the stability, success and growth of the city’s arts community since 1988. Financial issues plaguing the city have resulted in significant cuts to this organization over the past two years and this reduced financial support has taken their toll on the very arts groups the commission funds. Some 600 jobs have been eliminated; 55,000 fewer students benefited from education and outreach programs; and arts organizations offered 600,000 fewer free admissions.

San Diegans agree that the arts play an important role in our quality of life and that the arts improve the academic performance of children. A recent countywide poll conducted by KPBS and Competitive Edge Research clearly showed this to be true. The majority of these individuals also admitted that they rarely attend arts events or support arts organizations, either as a volunteer or through financial support. If we don’t support the arts personally, why should we expect our elected officials to do so with public funds?

We must ask ourselves why the arts matter and then communicate that to our elected and community leaders. Few will deny the intrinsic value of the arts to our quality of life or educational experience. From a practical point of view, funding the arts is an investment in the economic vitality of a region. In 2003, San Diego County arts and culture organizations contributed $247 million to the local economy through direct spending. Last year, the city of San Diego’s $7.7 million investment in arts and culture organizations produced $117.4 million in direct spending by these organizations. These groups also created 4,889 jobs, which produced $91.4 million in resident household income. In addition, tourists who visited museums, attended performances and participated in arts and culture activities poured $369 million back into the local economy, including their hotel costs.

The arts make San Diego proud. San Diego is an innovator and exporter of arts and culture. San Diego-based museums and music, dance and theatre companies have gained international recognition for their work. Plays and directors from The Old Globe and La Jolla Playhouse theaters have won 34 Tony awards. The San Diego Natural History Museum’s giant-screen film Ocean Oasis has played across the United States, Mexico, Canada, China and Spain. Sets designed by Zandra Rhodes for the San Diego Opera’s “The Magic Flute” will appear at the San Francisco Opera and the New York City Opera.

Arts and culture return so much to the community by providing a positive spotlight, an economic engine and an investment in the quality of life for the region. If we want our elected officials to continue investing in the arts, we must do the same.

Stephanie Casenza is executive director of the San Diego Performing Arts League, the region’s only umbrella organization devoted to promoting and advancing the performing arts by promoting volunteerism in the arts, offering affordable marketing opportunities, community outreach and training resources.

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