Sorry, Art: Governor Scott is Just Not That Into You.

I feel like the spurned lover finally arriving at the painful revelation that “he’s just not that into you”.  However, I’d be naïve or lying if I said that Rick Scott’s indifference (and by extension, the State government’s) is at all shocking.  If indeed, the arts were the lover manifest of Mr. Scott, the relationship would be such that at this point the two would be sleeping in separate beds.  Perhaps, even forgoing “honey” and “sweetie” in favor of “Mr. Scott” and “Mrs. Art”.  A strained relationship would be an improvement.

The most recent aloof dismissal of the arts, as detailed by a recent article in The Atlantic, is especially hurtful.    A task force commissioned by Governor Scott is creating a proposal which, among other things, suggests some bizarre changes to college tuition rates [1].  The proposal would allow Florida colleges to charge different tuition rates depending on the major.  “Appropriated state funding” would keep the tuition artificially low for certain majors outlined by the state while allowing colleges to raise tuition for others.  The state is hoping to steer students into “high-skill, high-wage, high-demand” majors as deemed by Governor Scott’s task force.  It likely won’t surprise you to learn that arts majors are not among them.  You can expect engineering and STEM programs to be favored with lower rates literally at the expense of arts majors (among others).

I won’t spend much time summarizing what makes this aspect of the proposal severely short-sighted (besides, Jordan Weissmann does a better job in the above mentioned article).  However, I will discuss some of it briefly in everyone’s favorite list type: bullet points!

  • The kind of engineers we’re looking for are the one’s attracted to the major because it’s cheaper – seriously?
  • This proposal seriously undervalues the business-place potential of creativity.  I forgot – is this country known for its “American Analytical Nature” or “American Ingenuity”?
  • The proposal risks attracting many people to majors they are not suited for.  This would undoubtedly leave many students that would have potentially graduated in a creative major to fail out of a supposedly “high demand” one.  While the proposal may produce more engineers it’ll just as certainly produce more engineer drop-outs.
  • The reason Florida is lacking in STEM based graduates is not because of expensive tuition; it’s because our State has some of the nation’s poorest performing high school math students.  Governor Scott and his task force would do well to concentrate efforts there.

It’s the second bullet point that, in a way, is most troubling.  It’s easy to infer from our State’s embarrassingly low per-capita arts funding how little arts and culture is regarded by State government – only one state provides its residents with less money for the arts than Florida.  We’re 49th in arts funding!

Florida = $.12 per capita VS. Minnesota =$5.79 per capita

However, there’s no longer any need to merely infer.  This new proposal gives the arts an actual standard to measure its importance (or lack of) in terms of state support.  Are the arts as vital as math, engineering, STEM? No. How about the sciences, technology, possibly even the entertainment industry?  Still, no.

The State of Florida seems to be missing something that is obvious to most Floridians: art is extremely valuable.  Polling shows that people feel the arts are integral to education and they feel funding must be found for it [2].  Further, the facts support the popular opinion.

Countless articles, studies, blog posts, and essays detail the manifold quantifiable benefits of art and culture – much more than I can realistically address here.  Google it if you’re looking for days of information to wade through.  To kick off your stat-fest consider the effects on the arts on the brains of underprivileged children [3], how the arts benefit student achievement [4], or the enormous economic benefits of the arts [5].  Also, this  doesn’t touch on art’s more esoteric benefits such as its roles as a powerful tool of self-expression, as society’s conscience, as a catalyst for collective dialogue, and so on.

I wouldn’t assume that Governor Scott and other like-minded politicians are morally wrong – that is, that they’re aware of the immense and innumerable benefits of the arts yet still holds them back from the citizens in their charge.  On the other hand, I also wouldn’t want to assume that the Governor and company are so incompetent that they’d be ignorant to facts and values that are plain to the majority of their constituency.

Regardless of the reason, the governor and his task force gravely undervalue the arts.  It’s this misjudgment that justifies a pathetically small token art fund followed by cutting it further by 65% [6].  It’s this same undervaluation which is leading to the state’s withdrawal of support from its fledgling art students.  It’s a painful realization for us as an arts community.  But for progress’ sake it must be made: the State of Florida is just not that into us.

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