Increasing arts funding is worth the investment

Today, as New Hampshire tackles issues related to opioid addiction, mental health, education and growing the economy, we cannot forget that they are all tied to the arts and the creative economy. Public funding of the arts has deep roots in the Granite State, and it is a heritage we should be proud of.

Governor Sununu’s proposed 2020-21 budget includes a $282,000 increase in the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts’ (NHSCA) General Fund State Arts Development Grants appropriation, bringing the total investment to $505,000. This investment would raise New Hampshire’s state arts investment ranking from 42nd in the country to 31st.

NHSCA grants have a proven impact on local communities. Because the arts create new opportunities to overcome real social challenges, this increase will enable NHSCA to respond to big issues, including the behavioral health/opioid crisis, workforce development, economic and community development and workforce retention and growth.

Back when the Great Depression gripped America in 1931, then-Gov. John Gilbert Winant saw investing in the arts as a way to build economic recovery and promote who we were as a state. Winant acted to establish a New Hampshire Commission of Arts and Crafts. With this effort, he made New Hampshire the first state in the nation to publicly fund the arts. With public support, the League of New Hampshire Arts and Crafts started in 1932 — and went on to be one of the institutions that defines our state.

Research today shows that art, music, dance, theater and creative writing are powerful tools in the prevention of addiction and in the treatment of addiction as well as behavioral health disorders. The NHSCA makes grants in these areas — and with a larger investment they can make more opioid/mental health-specific grants and partnerships and projects that serve veterans and seniors.

The new budget, if approved, would allow for additional grant funds to:

• Support behavioral health/opioid-specific grants, partnerships and projects in healthcare facilities and communities that blend the arts into prevention, treatment and recovery programs, including those that serve youth, veterans, seniors and the incarcerated. Research shows that the arts contribute to positive results when services are included in medical treatment and community prevention and wellness programs.

• A new grant program to help creative workers get entrepreneurial training and opportunities to grow their small businesses. The arts council’s strategic planning process identified a need for business and career training for this sector of New Hampshire’s economy.

• Additional funding in the general projects category to support projects on creative place-making and arts-focused community planning. These projects employ creative workers and generate interest in community spaces, leading to increased business activity.

• New grants to K-12 schools for artist residencies in schools that specialize in STEAM projects. Creativity is essential to training in science, technology, engineering and math and an absolute necessity for a competent 21st century workforce.

The beauty of New Hampshire’s natural resources and the ingenuity of the people who have settled here over time have combined to inspire a wide range of artistic endeavors and arts engagement. Their economic impact is impressive with nonprofit arts organizations in the state generating $115 million in economic activity annually that supports almost 4,000 jobs and generates more than $12 million in state and local government revenue.

Tell those folks in the State House that we know how arts can help economic and social growth — we started the idea way back when.

Howard Brodsky is chairman and CEO of CCA Global Partners, Manchester.

Categories: Opinion