Who’s afraid of data? We need to be multilingual!

I think this urge to block fluency in economic data and impact is misguided.  An article in the Buffalo News worries that focussing on economics will miss some of the other unquantifiable benefits of the arts.  I think having data sets and learning the language of business, and development- whether economic, community or workforce- equip artists with the multilingualism they need to partner and make an impact.

Firstly, the language of numbers is in itself a storytelling tool-poetic, mutable, metaphoric. The story your numbers tell on a tax return is different than the story you tell on a loan application. Everyone in business knows this. Secondly, fluency in economic language, or the language of the ‘gatekeepers’, does not impede the creative process. It allows an artist to be multilingual, to move from creation to articulating their value potential in the larger sphere. The isolationism of the art world does nothing to help this beyond getting artists to articulate value to each other. Big whip.

And thirdly, speaking the language of impact means joining the problem-solving tables in our communities, waxing poetic with government, business and non-profits. I had a real estate developer say to me, when I was tasked with catalyzing arts activity in a dying downtown, that events and marketing would not be enough to help the district. He said, “we have to make space for artists to make things happen, they can’t help it, its what they do.” He knew the value of artists and arts activity, and could argue for it at any table he sat at. We need many languages to describe this multifacetedness. And yes, we can invent new language to tell these stories too.

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