Radio Column

Asa Arkansas's Governor

The Art of Economic Development


Column Transcript

On Tuesday, I was honored to be a part of the opening ceremonies for the first ever Bentonville Film Festival. More than 600 people attended opening night, and hundreds more attended movie screenings at churches, meeting rooms, conference rooms and even Bentonville’s downtown square throughout the week.

It’s another example of the arts boosting the economic engine of Arkansas.

If you want to put a pencil to it, the arts in this country have a pretty big economic impact. According to one recent study, the arts-and-culture industry in the United States generated $135 billion of economic activity. That’s enormous. Most of us don’t realize how much the arts mean to the economy.

Closer to home, the Arkansas Arts Council estimates that $106 million was spent in our state last year thanks to the arts. That spending supported more than 3,000 full-time jobs and generated more than $11 million for local and state governments. It’s an incredible return on investment for Arkansas.

So when I talk about job creation and economic development, I’m certainly including the arts.

But aside from the numbers, the reason we celebrate the arts is that, without them, we’re shortchanging ourselves — and others.

Consider the ways that art inspires greatness, and ultimately affects us all:

When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, he took breaks to play the violin. Imagine that. Jefferson. Alone in his small rented room with his writing desk, his paper, his quill pen … and his violin. With those tools and his violin, Jefferson inspired the American Revolution. You can hear the music in his words.

Late in life, completely deaf, Beethoven composed much of the Ninth Symphony in his mind while walking the streets of his neighborhood — inspired by the natural art of his surroundings. What he saw and what he felt went into one of his greatest works.

And is there a drama or comedy written and performed today that does not owe some of its inspiration to Shakespeare?

That said, I bet there is not an artist alive who doesn’t yearn to create something never seen or heard before.

What draws us back to the arts is that we never really know what will happen next. Even if we’ve seen “Hamlet” a dozen times or heard “Ode To Joy” a hundred more, the experience is never quite the same. Because we are different each time. And because we have changed, each note, each line, each gesture is new again.

That is the beauty of the arts.

That … and the billions of dollars in economic impact!