Leo roars again
Arts inspire and enrich region
Ars Gratia Artis”
That Latin motto framed the face of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’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.