Leo roars again

Arts in­spire and en­rich re­gion

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE -

Ars Gra­tia Ar­tis”

That Latin motto framed the face of Metro-Gold­wynMayer’s fa­mous mas­cot Leo the Lion while he greeted decades of movie-go­ers with an im­pres­sive roar just be­fore the fea­ture rolled.

It means “Art for art’s sake.” In other words, art is (or should be) cre­ated for the fur­ther ed­u­ca­tion and civ­i­liza­tion of mankind. It fur­ther im­plies no ex­pec­ta­tion of fi­nan­cial or ma­te­rial re­mu­ner­a­tion.

Yeah, we’re pretty sure Sa­muel Gold­wyn or Louis B. Mayer didn’t see it that way. They knew that art, es­pe­cially the pop­u­lar kind, could be cre­ated for the sake of mon­u­men­tal prof­its and world­wide fame. If the films they cre­ated con­trib­uted to the ed­i­fi­ca­tion of so­ci­ety, well, that was just a happy ac­ci­dent.

Gold­wyn and Mayer got pretty good at mak­ing money from their art dur­ing the hey­day of Hol­ly­wood. Some could le­git­i­mately con­tend that not every MGM movie rose to the level of art. (How could the same stu­dio pro­duce

The Wiz­ard of Oz AND Skirts Ahoy?)

But it’s hard to ar­gue that nar­ra­tive film doesn’t have the abil­ity to in­spire the soul, spark se­ri­ous dis­cus­sion and en­gage au­di­ences in con­fronting their fears and chal­lenges. That’s also the goal of the older, more tra­di­tional art forms like mu­sic, vis­ual art, lit­er­a­ture and the study of his­tory and so­cial in­ter­ac­tions. All of them can still en­gage and in­vig­o­rate their au­di­ences.

So art can do both: in­spire and en­rich.

Don’t look now, but it’s hap­pen­ing all around us here in North­west Arkansas. The arts in the re­gion don’t just feed the soul, they ring cash reg­is­ters, too.

A re­cently re­leased study by an or­ga­ni­za­tion called Amer­i­cans for the Arts says that the im­pact of 23 lo­cal non­profit arts or­ga­ni­za­tions on the re­gion’s econ­omy in 2015 was $131 mil­lion. And by arts, we’re talk­ing about mu­sic per­for­mances and theater pro­duc­tion as well as mu­seum ex­hibits. That num­ber doesn’t in­clude for-profit ven­tures like con­certs at the Wal­mart Arkansas Mu­sic Pavil­ion or dozens of other non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tions not in­cluded in the sur­vey.

The list of the sur­veyed agen­cies cov­ers ev­ery­thing from Crys­tal Bridges Mu­seum of Amer­i­can Art in Ben­tonville to Spring­dale’s Art Cen­ter of the Ozarks to Lin­coln’s tiny but cool Coun­try Doc­tor Mu­seum.

That’s a lot of eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity, and it af­fects a lot of peo­ple. The study says at­ten­dance num­bers gath­ered from those 23 agen­cies amounted to 1.8 mil­lion vis­its in the year. Nearly 500,000 of those came from places out­side of Ben­ton or Wash­ing­ton coun­ties, mean­ing that if they went shop­ping, bought a meal or stayed in a ho­tel, they were con­tribut­ing to the lo­cal econ­omy in very real ways with “new” money.

The value of the arts in the com­mu­nity how­ever, can be counted in other, less ma­te­rial ways. Re­cruiters, es­pe­cially at the big, in­ter­na­tional busi­nesses based here say the pres­ence of an ac­tive and vi­brant arts scene helps them re­cruit new em­ploy­ees. And ed­u­ca­tors will line up to tell you that stu­dents who en­gage in artis­tic en­deav­ors tend to do well in school and in life af­ter grad­u­a­tion.

There’s lit­tle doubt the 2011 open­ing of Crys­tal Bridges, a world-class art mu­seum whose name pops up on end­less lists of “must-see” at­trac­tions around the world, has a great deal to do with the re­cent im­pact of the arts on lo­cal busi­nesses. Ac­cord­ing to the study, the eco­nomic im­pact of the arts in 2015 was three times more than a sim­i­lar study done in 2010.

With vis­i­tors from ev­ery­where com­ing to Crys­tal Bridges, other arts or­ga­ni­za­tions have seen greater in­ter­est in their of­fer­ings. It’s a com­mon oc­cur­rence: A vis­i­tor to Crys­tal Bridges also dis­cov­ers and in­ves­ti­gates the Scott Fam­ily Amazeum, or per­haps the Rogers His­tor­i­cal Mu­seum, or takes in a show at the Wal­ton Arts Cen­ter. Per­haps they shop in down­town Rogers or Fayetteville, or plan a trip back to the re­gion some day to bike on the Ra­zor­back Green­way or ride mo­tor­cy­cles on the wind­ing by­ways. Arts be­gat art, it ap­pears. And, when those vis­i­tors get back home, they won’t be able to re­sist telling their friends and neigh­bors about the hid­den trea­sures of the Ozarks.

That’s all well and good. It’s cer­tainly ben­e­fi­cial for the re­gion that the arts have be­come such an at­trac­tion to vis­i­tors and an in­spi­ra­tion to lo­cal res­i­dents.

The most last­ing perk af­fil­i­ated with a strong arts com­mu­nity, re­gard­less of the medium, has lit­tle to do with money or com­mer­cial ac­tiv­ity or rep­u­ta­tion build­ing. It has to do with the hu­man ca­pac­ity for re­flec­tion while ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a beau­ti­ful paint­ing or hear­ing a sym­phony orches­tra (or, for that mat­ter, an im­pro­vised sax­o­phone solo in a small Dickson Street pub). The arts open our eyes to the greater world through caus­ing us to feel — some­thing, any­thing — and thereby make us a lit­tle more hu­man. That’s the great­est ben­e­fit of a thriv­ing arts com­mu­nity.

Yes, arts play a role in our econ­omy here in North­west Arkansas. But they play a big­ger role in our col­lec­tive un­der­stand­ing of each other and the world in which we live.

Maybe Leo, the MGM lion, has it right af­ter all. Art is, and should be, for art’s sake.

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