Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Arts and education: Do they influence each other?

In a January 5 article on http://www.forbes.com titled "America's Most Educated Small Towns," Jacqueline Detwiler lists West Lafayette as the sixth-most educated small town in the United States. Of the town's 27,664 residents, 46.9% have an advanced degree, 30.3% have a Bachelor's degree and 3.3% have an Associate degree. She writes that "top science minds" are drawn to West Lafayette because of Purdue University, and she cites the engineering program specifically. She also says employers at the Purdue Research Park -- including Butler International, Nanovis and Nissan Chemical -- help to keep these "top minds" in the city.

You can read the full article and the criteria used to create the list, as well as see a slideshow of the Top 20 cities here. The slideshow can be found at the "In Depth" link halfway down the article.

Detwiler notes that highly educated people are involved with the arts and culture, which influences opportunities in their hometown. She said that downtown Bethesda, Maryland, has almost 200 restaurants, despite the city having a total population of only 56,842. Brookline, Massachusetts, has more than 20 bookstores including travel specialists and out-of-print shops.

Detwiler also shares information about the arts in Palo Alto, California, home of Stanford University.

"Palo Alto, Calif., is serous about providing arts and entertainment opportunities for its highly educated residents," she writes. "The city's Arts, Parks and Recreation department organizes several community theaters, an annual film festival and an art center that hosts exhibitions and classes for children."

Does the idea that highly educated people are involved in the arts hold true in West Lafayette, Lafayette and Tippecanoe County? There are several arts and culture organizations in the area, including Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette. Can part of the reason be because of the educational makeup of the area?

Or, perhaps, the opportunity for artistic outlets affect an area's educational makeup, especially when it comes to younger people. I've known several students who have been part of Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette's Civic Youth Theatre program, and, for the most part, they're self-confident, sell-assured young people who respond well in front of large groups; they have good time management skills; and they seem to be involved in a lot of activities in which they take a leadership role. I would assume this holds true for students who participate in the Lafayette Ballet Company and other arts organizations in Tippecanoe County.

So here's the question: How much does one influence the other? Are the arts influenced by highly educated people in Tippecanoe County, and do the arts influence the education of residents, especially young people?


Steven Koehler said...

I think the answer is yet. The two are completely related and inter-dependent.

Studies have consistently shown that participating in the arts increases student test scores, lowers drop-out rates, and generally keeps kids out of trouble. The studies show that these benefits are a result of participating in the arts, not skewed results due to "good kids" being more likely to participate in the arts. In other words, the arts makes the "good kids".

As for the influence of higher education, at least locally speaking there would be little to no arts and culture scene in Lafayette without Purdue. This is particularly interesting here because as we know Purdue does not have a music department, let alone a music school, and although there is a theatre department, it does not receive the funding or attention that it deserves, not does it come close to the size and scope of other theatre departments in the state. And yet, the existence of Civic Theatre would not have happened without Purdue. The people that have made first Lafayette Little Theatre and then Civic Theatre thrive were here in Lafayette because of the University. Many of the hard working volunteers over our 77 year history were in Greater Lafayette because of Purdue, and a great deal of our audience is somehow related to Purdue.

This is not to say that a community needs a major University to have Culture, one needs only to look a little south into Frankfort and see a thriving arts and culture scene, albeit much smaller in scope than Greater Lafayette.

I also would never assume to say that all of Civic Theatre's success has been due to Purdue related people. Our community is diverse and much deeper than just Purdue University. We owe our successes past and future to many people. But without the influence of a major University, I am not sure we would be able to see the size of our success.

Great topic Steve.

sarah said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



Steve Martin said...

Steve, I've also heard about the studies you mention re: higher test scores and drop-out rates. It's always made me wonder how else to expose arts opportunities to people, whether it's performing arts or visual arts. And not only to be a spectator, but a participant.

Having a Big 10 university definitely brings opportunities to the area: Purdue Galleries, Purdue Convocations, Purdue Theatre & Dance performances, presentations by the Black Cultural Center, Purdue-related Improv groups, lectures and presentations with nationally known celebrities and newsmakers ... all possible because of Purdue.

Then add art and culture opportunities in Lafayette, Frankfort, Crawfordsville -- especially Wabash College, my alma mater ... it's an environment filled with opportunities.

Mark Allen said...

Sarah, welcome. Please keep visiting. And tell all your friends also.