I attended the Louisiana Cultural Economy Summit on Friday, an effort driven primarily by Lt. Governor Mitch Landrieu and his staff to support culture and the arts in a more deliberate manner as an economic driver in our state. A few observations:
– We support and pursue businesses in manufacturing, chemical, and technology companies through a variety of incentives. A study indicates that 144,000 jobs come from the state’s cultural economy. Nice to see that we are beginning to recognize the importance of those jobs and industries and supporting them in kind (through historic preservation, legislation for arts in the schools, and tax credits for film, television, and theater production).
– With respect to the arts, Mitch Landrieu’s indicated that “You’ve got to show up” to make a difference, referring to the fact that legislators have to choose between various worthwhile programs and if you don’t speak out, they’ll appropriate the money elsewhere. Mitch indicated that when roughly 90% of the arts budget in the schools was put on the chopping block recently, he and his staff rallied support from the arts community and its advocates around the state. Within 3 hours, they had generated e-mails from 80,000 people and delivered them to the appropriations committee. They changed their tune.
– Regardless of where you stand politically, Mitch Landrieu should be applauded on 2 fronts:
Number 1 – It’s sometimes difficult to measure what gains are realized when people get together to discuss issues at conferences of this nature. The first step in that process however, is recognizing the importance of the issues. It’s encouraging that Mitch is putting the importance of arts and culture on the front-burner rather than the traditional approach of hoping that those industries prosper organically.
Number 2 – For a position (Lt. Governor) that traditionally has been considered somewhat benign in Louisiana politics, Mitch is making the office seem much more relevant.
– I attended the panel on arts integration in the schools, one of the most encouraging and enlightening experiences I’ve had recently related to the arts. The following panelists should be applauded for their efforts:
Sarah Cunningham – National Endowment of the Arts
Rosalynn Wade – Oklahoma A+ Schools
Kathy Riedlinger – Lusher Charter School
Cissy Whipp – J. Wallace James Elementary School for Arts and Technology
Judi Holifield – Mississippi Arts Commission’s Whole Schools Initiative
Carl Day – Laurel High School Whole Schools Initiative
Ms. Riedlinger said that when other school administrators ask how she can prepare her students for the LEAP tests with Arts in the curriculum, she replies, “How can you prepare your students for the tests without Arts in the curriculum.”
These progressive and dedicated educators are demonstrating that arts in the schools are the catalyst for student achievement, not a hindrance.
– In Louisiana, Act 175 requires public schools to develop, adopt, and implement a visual and performing arts curriculum by the 2010 school year. While the program has challenges, a pilot program of 6 fully integrated arts schools will demonstrate success stories and provide a model for other schools to follow. Hats off the Richard Baker, Jr., Fine Arts Program Director for the Louisiana Department of Education for his efforts in moving that initiative forward.
To learn more about LA Act 175, you can view a lecture by Mr. Baker at ArtistsHouseMusic.org