Arts—a secret ingredient in fueling the economy

On June 25-26, we celebrated the 32nd Congressional Art Competition, honoring the imaginations and talent of promising young artists across America. While we celebrate their achievements, we’re reminded of the importance of arts education in an increasingly challenging global marketplace. 

Although high school graduation rates in the U.S. have reached an all-time high, the results aren’t necessarily translating into greater opportunities for our nation’s youth. The next decade is estimated to create approximately 8.5 million STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) job opportunities, but during the same time it is also estimated that the U.S. will face a shortage of 1 million STEM graduates.

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Many ideas have been proposed to help address this crisis, including better targeted government resources, enhanced industry incentives, and more scholarship opportunities. 

These proposals are important, yet too often they ignore an area that would make a huge difference on workforce preparedness and our economy—the arts. Research shows the arts and arts education prepare students for jobs in technology and design, adding to our nation’s economic vitality. 

According to a study by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis released in December 2013, arts and culture accounted for 3.2 percent of GDP ($504 billion) in 2011. That was more than the value of the entire travel and tourism industry. Arts education added another $7.6 billion to the U.S. GDP in 2011, and for every dollar spent on arts education, an additional 56 cents was generated elsewhere in the U.S. economy. Additionally, 78 percent of college-educated professionals say creativity is very important to their career, and 88 percent believe it should be built into education curriculums. The ripple effect of investing in the arts and arts education is clear.

Despite this, the topic gets lost in discussions about STEM. Today, there are hundreds of worthy STEM initiatives in city and state legislatures, the U.S. Congress, and the private sector—yet these initiatives frequently overlook the arts. All too often, we forget that the arts and sciences together create breakthrough innovations and, increasingly, are at the heart of great digital experiences, which are contributing to economic growth in myriad ways. Without the marriage of design and technology, some of our most important advancements of the last decade would never have come to life. And these innovations create high paying jobs and make our lives better.

As we celebrate the next great American painters, photographers, and designers, let’s make sure we highlight the important role they play in strengthening our economy and brightening our future, much as we do for future scientists, software coders, engineers, and mathematicians.

Bonamici, representing Oregon's 1st Congressional District, and Schock, represneting Illinois' 18th, are co-chairs of the House's new STEAM Caucus, which adds the arts to STEM. Davis, representing Illinois' 13th, Farenthold, from Texas' 27th and Honda, from California's 17th, are caucus members.  Sanchez, representing California's 46th Congressional District was co-chair of the Congressional Art Competition, and Eshoo, from California's 18th, was an art competition participant. Johnson is vice president of Government Affairs and Public Policy at Adobe Systems, which was national sponsor of the Congressional Art Competition.