Artistically and economically, arts school is valuable

February 2, 2010 

Let's put the Jan. 11 Point of View piece "Lofty subsidies for arts education" by Max Borders into perspective. The questions being asked are: Are the arts valuable? Should they be taught? Should taxpayers pay for arts education or any education?

The state answered the last question when it chartered the University of North Carolina in 1789, the year that George Washington became president of a new nation. And in 1963, North Carolina answered again when it established the nation's first public arts conservatory, the N.C. School of the Arts (now the UNC School of the Arts).

Is art valuable? Clearly, at UNCSA, we value the arts and believe they are worthy of public investment. We believe drama and film students are just as deserving as science and history students. Artists create the lasting image of a civilization, through music, theater, painting and more. That is how we know the Greeks, the Romans - and how America will be remembered. It should also be said that American art is one of the few industries that is regularly exported and almost never outsourced. In North Carolina alone, it is worth $41 billion, according to a new study from the N.C. Department of Commerce.

UNCSA is a center of excellence, like a law school or a medical school, and comparing the costs to train a student here with those of a liberal arts college does not give us any valuable information. It costs more to train doctors, lawyers, ballet dancers and flutists because these fields require direct mentoring. UNCSA also gives highly motivated young people job skills: 95 percent of our Design & Production students have jobs before they graduate.

UNCSA also serves as a cultural resource for this state. Our students give 300 performances a year - not only on campus, but also in the public schools, at Brenner Children's Hospital, at retirement communities and at major public events. UNCSA hosts statewide arts gatherings and offers community-based arts programs. And UNCSA donates $500,000 a year in goods and services to its Winston-Salem/Piedmont Triad community.

The number of alumni who stay in North Carolina is about 50 percent, not 15 percent. The other 50 percent? They are the ambassadors of the vision and generosity of North Carolinians. The UNCSA family can be found in Asheville and Wilmington as well as on Broadway and in Berlin. You will find us in every dance company in the state as well as in every major dance company in the world. We are in soap operas and in grand operas. We design the productions for the Charlotte Children's Theater as well as Washington National Opera.

And we do it all with just 1 percent of the UNC operating budget. Look at it another way: We cost each citizen of the state less than one penny a day.

Can we be better? Of course. Are we doing a good job? Happily, here is one part of Borders' essay we can all agree on.

John Mauceri

Chancellor, University of North Carolina School of the Arts

Winston-Salem

The length limit was waived to permit a fuller response.

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