A week after I received the kind invitation to join you here today, I opened The Atlantic to read an article about Al Gore’s venture called the “Generation Investment Management” firm. I was thrilled to read this piece because it provided me with a potentially productive way to reframe the conversation that is at the heart of this panel’s purpose: the use of ROI paradigm to support our advocacy efforts in the arts and humanities.
The message of the “Generation Investment Management” firm is actually quite simple. They claim that investors “can make more money if they change their practices in a way that will, at the same time, also reduce the environmental and social damage modern capitalism can do.” They believe that the real, dollars-and-cents, balance-sheet value of a company is best assessed by including measurements that many other businesses deliberately leave out (88). Their goal, therefore, is to broaden the spectrum of factors that have traditionally been considered worthy and profitable in the long term. and demonstrate that a commitment to responsible citizenship does not have to constitute a risk or a “business minus,” but is, rather, a “business plus advantage” that they define as “Sustainable Capitalism.”
As Beatrice noted, and as you know, most conversations about the ROI of the arts and humanities take place within a “business minus” (SLIDE) framework whereby students’ employment opportunities and salaries are perceived as lesser, lost or reduced. This framework is at odds with many of our larger educational efforts as outlined by the AAC&U (SLIDE) in their recent report on “Trends in General Education Design, Learning Outcomes, and Teaching Approaches.” They found that 67% of institutions are placing more emphasis on the integration of knowledge, skills, and applications; 61% on applied learning experiences; 51% on cross-cutting skill development; and 32% on broad knowledge acquisition. These trends address the educational needs of a world that has become more complex, mobile, challenging and fluid than what the conclusions of the commonly used return on investment conversations might suggest.
Similarly, leading efforts by grant-giving institutions, such as NEH’s “The Common Good” (SLIDE) speak to the need to address our world’s rapidly changing technological impact and most acute human challenges through scholarship with widespread relevance. (pause) The “good” in The Common Good initiative places emphasis on the positive and relevant contributions of our disciplines while the “common” points to the importance of a “shared humanities” meant to build mutually beneficial partnerships. Our shared humanities recognizes that our disciplines no longer, and actually never have lived in isolation from one another, but now more than ever, breath life (SLIDE) into a larger ecosystem of interconnecting and spreading parts that shift and change and are remixed (SLIDE) through the participation of many individuals, in different spaces, through different media and cultural perspectives.
Our shared humanities questions the existence of a separation (SLIDE) of the arts and humanities from the world at large, precisely because our publics (SLIDE) feed themselves daily on the arts and humanities, they revive (SLIDE) them across a host of surprising spaces; they play (SLIDE) and interact with them across programs and platforms; they use (SLIDE) them to question social and political assumptions; they rock (SLIDE) out on them and raise them to the skies; and they make the arts and humanities their own (SLIDE), there where it matters most to them.
Depending on your perspective, some might claim that the arts and humanities may actually not be in crisis or decline, at a loss or less. As Steven Tepper and Bill Ivey remind us in their book Engaging Art: The Next Great Transformation of America’s Cultural Life, while art attendance in the traditional sense may be down, art participation among the young is increasing in ballet, musical theatre, pottery and ceramics (365).
(SLIDE) Research conducted by the Pew Charitable Trust found that “some 57% of online teens create, share, and remix new works“(366); (pause) there is evidence that shows that when we look at less traditional spaces, we also find that, for instance, 70-75% of all church congregations include choir singing, drama or skits and art festivals. The arts and humanities are flourishing in immigrant communities, where “they are used as a means of passing heritage, negotiating identity, and reaching out to mainline audiences” (366). New data from the National Endowment for the Arts and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, covering figures from 1998 to 2013, “are also spotlighting the fast-growing arts industries, export trends, employment figures, consumer data and more, concluding that arts and cultural production contributed $704.2 billion to the United States economy, a 32.5 percent increase since 1998.”
These engagements and figures suggest that there are different stories we can tell, and that we have the ability to work proactively from within a ROI framework that speaks to different communities and redirects what currently is being perceived as worthy (SLIDE) of investment.
In fact, we live in a time that presents us with an exceptional opportunity because there are so many ideas spreading through new media that more people can participate meaningfully in culture and society, and this means, as scholar Henry Jenkins notes, that businesses are also increasingly driven by mutually beneficial and more sustainable models that depend on the relationships they seek with their audiences.
Reaching diverse groups in ways that are meaningful to them has probably been one of the most challenging aspects of my own work. What I learned through both a Mellon planning grant I directed titled “Our Shared Humanities,” (SLIDE) and a campaign I started on (SLIDE) 4humanities called “Humanities, Plain and Simple,” was that when you communicate across departments, academic and professional communities, you must be aware of the language you use to connect. Therefore, terms as essential as the “arts,” the “humanities”, “analytical reasoning” and even “global learning,” may resonate with the educational community in general, but do they resonate with our future students, our political candidates or our business communities?
One of the reasons why I have been building a platform called (SLIDE) “The Arts & Humanities in the Twenty-first Century Workplace” is precisely because I am hoping to bridge the language gap through concrete examples that demonstrate how the arts and humanities are integrated into a diverse set of professional fields in ways that are surprising, transformative, beneficial and profitable.
And the reason why I also have a special interest in our Millennial students, for whom I have created a series of programs (SLIDE) that I am happy to talk about at more length over a glass of wine, is because I believe that their voices carry significant weight in how and why businesses will want to share in the integral benefits of the arts and humanities.
The Millennials are worth listening to because (SLIDE), “86 million millennials will be in the workplace by 2020—representing a full 40% of the total working population.” Were one to extrapolate and imagine that in 2020 and beyond, 60 or 70% of those students were to enter the marketplace with degrees from STEM fields alone, we might worry about the long-term and disproportionate economic effects that today’s emphasis on STEM might have on tomorrow’s national economic health.
To put it differently, while this (SLIDE) apartment on the edge might certainly represent the excitement of spaces we can inhabit when we embrace engineering and technology, living in that (SLIDE) apartment way up there, might not feel as comforting when its foundational structures are eroded (SLIDE). In addition, always looking toward the skies, may very well limit our view of what is happening on the ground (SLIDE), there where human conditions are not always saved by technology and engineering, but rather by changes to foundational structures only achieved through a collaborative environment of engineers, architects, social scientists, artists and humanists who put their cross-cutting skills to the test, together.
The concrete outcomes of these combined skills become all the more important to a generation of which 64% (SLIDE) say it’s a priority for them to make the world a better place and 88% desire work-life integration—which is not the same as work-life balance, since work and life now blend together inextricably.
These Millennial goals can be combined with findings from a study with sophomores at Northwestern University, (SLIDE) called “Double Majors: One for Me, One for the Parents?” in which students admitted to pursuing one major for their parents who, quote, were “more likely to approve majors associated with high social status,” and a second major for the enjoyment of the students themselves, although both were chosen “to hedge their prospects in the labor market.”
This blending of majors by a generation known for their remixings, has been shown to yield higher profits. A 2008 study (SLIDE) called “Double Your Major / Double Your Return?” found that:
Double majoring increases earnings by 2.3%.
Combining an arts, humanities or social science major with a major in business, engineering, science or math have returns up to 50% higher.
Were one to speak to the blended financial and personal benefits of the double major, one could turn our narrative of “crisis” and “decline” around. In fact, the most recent Humanities Indicators numbers published by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences this past October, have demonstrated that (SLIDE) "Humanities Bachelor's Degrees Earned as "Second Majors" have increased by 46.3%, as represented by the blue line while the percentage of second majors--the yellow line--overall has stayed relatively steady.
Now, when students gain two degrees, what lends first or second degree status to the arts and humanities? Is it determined by the students, by society, or by a computer system that aligns spaces in a particular order? And how might the arts and humanities fare in terms of their being in “decline” or “rise” were both degrees given equal status?
This begs the question of what else might be perceived as valuable to our students and their futures if we expanded the spectrum of what they see as “counting.” For instance, what would happen to our perceived worth if we departed from measurements that went beyond our core arts and humanities disciplines and included emerging and already established cross-disciplinary programs, such as medical humanities, humanistic engineering, business ethics, biodesign, forensic aesthetics or geohumanities? What would happen to our enrollment numbers if courses such as "The Chemistry of Art" or "The Brain on Music" were included in this inventory?
I often come across comments such as the one presented at a 2013 conference at The University of Washington on “The Future of the Environmental Humanities,“ which stated that while, “the humanities have in general seen a decline in their enrollments and perceived relevance, the fields of ecocriticism, environmental history, and environmental ethics have seen “impressive” growth and “steady progress.””
To note, then, is that a growth in “Environmental Humanities” does not constitute a loss, but rather a Plus or an expansion that adds to the worth of our shared arts and humanities. As such, when leaders cut into our core disciplines, they, ironically, also undermine (SLIDE) the sustainability and profitability of their own structures; they cut into the same programs that are hailed as some of the most “innovative” and “entrepreneurial” efforts in STEM today. Which begs a completely separate question worth exploring, namely whether we are living in a crisis of the humanities or a crisis in leadership?
Imagine what could happen to the narrative of decline if our leaders, colleagues and friends in these disciplines and programs filled this room and partnered with us on every single level, raising their voices right alongside ours, but on their platforms, through their language and with their publics in mind for the sole reason that energizing the arts and humanities, both literally and figuratively, (SLIDE) would mean making their students, their programs and their businesses more worthy of attention and investment. By extension, imagine how national conversations related to “access” and “affordability” might also change, were more worthy access points made visible and available to more diverse demographics.
You see, when we depart from the power and potential of our shared and spreading interests in the spreadsheets of our cultures and communities, we can demonstrate that the arts and humanities are riding a wave that is much more exhilarating and promising than traditional investment managers might suggest.
When we look into the future we can see that the changing needs of the world at large are joined by a Millennial worldview and a changing educational landscape that demand more integrative and creative thinking standards. By extension, it is easy to conclude that those businesses and individuals who invest in artistic and humanistic endeavors will retain the edge in our changing marketplaces while those that continue to work within old frameworks and structures will fade away. And I think that we, as advocates can capture, through concrete and exciting examples, the surprising and transformative contributions of the arts and humanities to the bottom line interest of our diverse communities.
Through a sustainable, benefits plus framework, we can demonstrate that today’s arts and humanities can take the next generation as high (SLIDE) as Ed Sheeran’s Instaconcert on top of Germany’s Zugspitze, live streamed to reach up to 140,000 spectators on any screen, and shared with thousands more through social media channels, all gathered in an interactive music video.
We can show that the arts and humanities can preserve our cultural heritage by immersing ourselves in (SLIDE) this video game called “Never Alone,” which came about through an uncommon partnership of nearly 40 Alaska Native elders, storytellers and community members who worked side by side with game developers to share, celebrate and extend [...] the traditional lore of the Innupiat people.” It is meant to be the first, they say, in “an exciting new genre of ‘World Games’, which can be bought on Amazon, I checked, for $14.99.
When we dig deep into our souls, we can show that the arts and humanities can literally fit to us like a glove as we explore the environmental impact of death on our quality of life (SLIDE), as did artist Jae Rhim Lee through her mushroom burial suit. It was brought to market by “a broad base of world-leading experts in art, design, finance, fashion and the funeral industry.”
And when even Ellen Degenerous (SLIDE) is encouraging others to pull out their boards in her design challenge, we just might convince our kids to also get on board with the arts and humanities. They will quickly understand that skill in making and welding alone may not be enough to win and that those with the educational benefits of backgrounds in both engineering and history, psychology and culture—will have the competitive edge needed to win those reality-tv driven prizes and surf into successful careers.
So, I ask you: are we really the loss or the minus in the ROI framework, adrift (SLIDE) in a sea of educational unworthiness? Or can we proactively take control of where the tides are taking us by building unusual (SLIDE) partnerships across many boards and riding on what I believe is the future of an arts and humanities that clearly and concretely contributes to a person’s and a business’s financial interests while also strengthening the foundational structures of our institutions.