I believe deeply that the purpose of the arts is not simply to drive economic development, though they do that, too. The arts are much more foundational to communities.
At a recent forum in Waterloo on Strengthening the Arts Economy one of the panelists supported this belief. They referred to how important the arts are for a city’s functioning and encouraged (potential) city representatives to “treat the arts like the sewage system; if you don’t have it your city is going to stink.”
In Chapter 10: Create Something, Warnick, too, describes the essential role the arts play in cities. They promote well-being and personal happiness, increase attachment to place, and create a sense of belonging.
More importantly, though, the arts can and in many cases do have an even more substantial impact. According to Alain de Botton in his book Status Anxiety, the arts have long been a way to challenge and disrupt status and structures of power. He states,
Given that few things are more in need of criticisms (or of insight and analysis) than our approach to status and its distribution, it is hardly surprising that so many artists across time should have created works that in some way contest the methods by which people are accorded rank in society. The history of art is filled with challenges – ironic, angry, lyrical, sad or amusing – to the status system (p. 126).
It would seem, then, that using the arts for economic ends subverts the arts’ disruptive potential. Maybe that’s partly the point.