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Arts, Public Purpose, and Policy Class Helps Students See the Big Picture

By Tate Glover

How do we talk about the value of the arts?

This was one of the key questions we set out to answer in Arts, Public Purpose, and Policy taught by Dr. Jennifer Novak-Leonard. In the class we spoke at length about the different ways that the arts are supported by government at national, state, and local levels, as well as by independent organizations.

We began with basic vocabulary and frameworks that helped us contextualize the role of the arts in society. From there we delved into the Chicago Cultural Plan and looked at not only what goals were defined, but the significance of how the plan was created. We later compared this to New York City’s Cultural Plan to see what they did differently and why the differing personalities of the cities were important.

Economic value was also a major topic that we discussed. Using the arts as a way to boost industry, attract tourists and increase the quality of living has gained more interest in the United States as small towns struggle to adapt to the failure of major factories.

We had several chances to speak with and learn from professionals in the field who are working to support the arts. Karen Gahl-Mills, the CEO and executive director of Cuyahoga Arts & Culture spoke to us about how public funding is being used in Cleveland and the surrounding area to bolster cultural and artistic endeavors. We later heard from Claire Rice about advocating for the arts and discussed how to gain traction in the realm of politics and society at large.

For our last class Dr. Novak-Leonard arranged for us to tour the redevelopment sites that were initiated by Theaster Gates. We were hosted by the PlaceLab team and had the opportunity to view creative-placemaking up close, learning about the values and passion that has motivated the artistic growth in Washington Park.

            Overall, this course asked students to consider the arts within the larger context of society, beyond our own artistic practices and interests. As future leaders in the industry, this lens will help us consider not just the internal value of the arts, but also the larger impact and importance of our work.

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