Remarks by Jonathan Fanton, Americans for the Arts; Arts and Economic Prosperity Launch
June 6, 2007 | Speech | Culture, Equity, and the Arts in Chicago

Good morning.  I am Jonathan Fanton, President of the MacArthur Foundation.  I am pleased to be here this morning to reaffirm MacArthur’s longstanding commitment to the arts, especially here in Chicago, and our belief that the arts enrich, enliven, and enlighten the communities in which they flourish.

The results of the study released today add empirical data to support our convictions, and we applaud the valuable work done by Bob Lynch and Americans for the Arts in strengthening the case for the arts nationally.  

MacArthur has deeps roots in this city and community.  We fund 180 arts and culture organizations in the Chicago region – both directly, and through our partners at the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation and the Prince Charitable Trusts.  All told, we have given $125 million to the arts since our founding in 1978.

This commitment is deep and broad: from the national treasures of the Museums in the Park to local arts groups in neighborhoods throughout the city, from Pilsen to the Near West Side, from Bronzeville and Chatham to Uptown, and from Evanston to Highland Park.

My own commitment to the arts was reinforced during my years as president of the New School for Social Research in New York.  There, I was privileged to strengthen and unify our outstanding arts programs – in creative writing, jazz, and contemporary music; at Parson’s School of Design, Mannes College of Music, and The Actor’s Studio Drama School.  And I felt obliged to sue the National Endowment for the Arts to challenge the Helms amendment and its chilling censorship provisions, a decision that I think would have pleased Thomas Hart Benson, Jose Clemente Orozco, Berenice Abbot, Martha Graham, and other luminaries who had taught at the New School.

So I have been gratified to lead a Foundation that supports the arts generously, consistently, and effectively.  We do this because we know that the arts are not optional luxuries, but central to the human experience.  They lift our spirits, inspire, inform, and challenge us to new heights.  They are critical to every successful metropolitan area, as Americans for the Arts has so ably demonstrated.

Chicago is a national landmark and one of the world’s leading cities not only because of our triumphs in commodities trading, or transport, or manufacturing, but because we have nurtured cultural treasures like the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, great blues musicians, the Joffrey Ballet, the comic genius of Second City, and quintessentially American theater.

It is, I think, in the American character to be inspired by ideas, artistic beauty, music and dance.  But we are also a practical people, ever alert to economic growth and return on investment.  Advocates for the arts have made a strong case that the arts enhance our culture, add value to our lives, and bring us together across divides of all kinds.  We have done less well in showing that the arts are also a powerful source of economic development – especially in urban America. 

That is what is important about the report Americans for the Arts releases today.  It provides reliable, quantifiable evidence for our intuitions, showing that the arts are an engine of growth, community cohesion, and civic confidence. As Commissioner Weisberg explained, they bring employment, visitors, and tax dollars to this city and region: $1.1 billion in economic activity, 30,000 jobs, and $100 million in local and state revenue.

MacArthur believes that a focus on the arts is an essential part of urban revitalization – a cause to which we are passionately committed.  Cities are on the rise, increasingly desirable for their concentration of skills and capital, their diversity and rich experience, and their great facilities and institutions.

In Baltimore, Los Angeles, Boston, and Atlanta we see the same resurgence of confidence.  And Chicago is leading the nation in showing that central cities can have “a second act” as gateways of opportunity for people of all racial, ethnic, and educational backgrounds.

MacArthur is in its fifth year of a $150-million partnership with LISC-Chicago.  This initiative, the New Communities Program, aims to improve 16 of Chicago’s low- and moderate-income neighborhoods, working with and through some of the nation’s strongest nonprofit leaders.  NCP is led by neighborhood-based non-profit organizations which have created data-driven, realistic, plans for transformation. 

The arts figure prominently in those community blueprints:

• In Humboldt Park, 10 original murals were painted by local artists, adding beauty and texture to the area;
•  In Little Village, a Day of the Dead celebration showcased murals and Aztec and Afro-Caribbean performances;
• In Woodlawn, a new String Instrument Program uses the Suzuki method to teach 4-to-6 year-olds to play classical music;
• In Garfield Park, a two-day fair last August, Art in the Market, featured an international exchange of art between local girls and their counterparts in Accra, Ghana.

Each of these efforts helps build a sense of place, creating dialogue and sheer enjoyment.  Arts projects show that a neighborhood is fostering the gifts of those who live there and succeeding as a community.  When the arts thrive, people thrive too.

Americans for the Arts has done us all a service in reminding us that the arts are not only valuable, they are also profitable.  Building on their work, we can make the case for increased investment and support, and help open new vistas for the human spirit both in Chicago and across the nation.

Stay Informed
Sign up for periodic news updates and event invitations.
Connect with us on social media or view all of our social media content in one place.

The privacy of your data is important to us. We've updated our privacy policies in response to General Data Protection Regulation.