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Commentary: Why Give to the Arts?

Having a thriving arts community affects our city in more ways than you might imagine.

The New Children's Museum

Rebecca Smith

When he was ten, my son, Ezra, looked up at the entrance to The New Children’s Museum for the first time, glanced at the nearby skyline, and stated, “Now we look like a real city.”

Kids say the darnedest things sometimes. But even a child couldn’t help but notice how investing in the arts can impact a community.

I don’t run a gallery, teach art history, or chair gala events. Yet, working at the intersection of business and education, I believe that the arts are important, no matter where you live or what you do. My personal charge, as an art commissioner, is to start conversations about making the arts relevant to friends, neighbors, and coworkers.

So why invest in creative expression in San Diego?

 Barrio art crawl, brazilian day festival

Culture happens year-round here, from the Barrio Art Crawl in Barrio Logan and Brazilian Day festival in Pacific Beach, to the Italian Film Festival in Little Italy and Samahan Performing Arts in Chula Vista. Supporting the arts is a win for our neighborhoods. If San Diego is to attract and keep diverse, innovative millennials, we need a thriving cultural landscape for their entertainment, participation, and development. A Neilsen survey last year noted that Austin’s exciting art and music scene fits the millennial ideal; its nationally-recognized South by Southwest started as a local music festival.


There’s an uplift to the arts that’s not always evident in other nonprofit initiatives: I recall a riveting performance by TranscenDANCE, featuring a young Latino choreographer who used to belong to a City Heights gang. After-school dance classes changed his life. Finding a purpose saved his life. (Every time he stepped onstage, numerous girls screamed their approval—another motivator for him, no doubt.) 

Nonprofit organizations in the arts sector support 6,268 jobs across the city, while spending $191 million, according to our report The 2014 Economic and Community Impact of Nonprofit Arts and Culture Organizations in San Diego. The arts generate revenue, by hosting tourists to our cultural attractions—1.6 million visits in 2014 alone. Creative expression is also vital to technology companies, health care institutions, research universities, small businesses, and international partnerships that represent our region.

samahan performing arts

The arts, like any form of creative expression, take us outside of ourselves—outside of carpools, budgets, deadlines, meetings, and groceries. When I study flamenco dance, see a play, or hear live music, multitasking is impossible. I must be present in the moment. I am transported, transformed. That experience allows me to contribute more fully to my family, my work, my “real city.”

Give to the arts by attending performances and making donations, of course. But consider that your energy and insight are important, too. Serve on committees. Join a board. Your expertise in marketing, finance, social media, or human resources is quite useful to a local arts organization.

We all need to support our local arts scene, and make the next generation in San Diego proud.


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