On Appreciating the Art of Business and the Business of Art
Robert Lynch is the president and CEO of Americans for the Arts, the national organization dedicated to advancing the arts and arts education in people’s lives, schools, and communities. He was executive director of the National Assembly of Local Arts Agencies for 12 years, and managed the successful merger of that organization with the American Council for the Arts to form Americans for the Arts in 1996.
Arts Management Magazine: Give us a snapshot what Americans for the Arts is.
Robert Lynch: Americans for the Arts is the national organization for the advancement of arts and arts education in America, advancing the concept of having the arts and arts education in the lives of every American and every child. It also of course advances support – that is, funding – to keep the arts in every community and, we hope, someday, in every school in America.
AMM: Why are the arts so important?
RL: The arts are critical from a number of points of view. But as a person, just as a human being, the inherent value of the arts is that they provide beauty and interest, challenge, ideas, things that are told to us in a different language. The language may be movement, it may be music, or it may be theater. But, in essence, it is something that helps us to enjoy life better, and have that pursuit of happiness that is promised. At the same time, the arts are important because they also help make better schools and better communities for a better America.
AMM: Let’s talk about that one by one. You mentioned schools; how do the arts help education?
RL: Interestingly, there was an article recently in the New York Times that talked about problems in America concerning subjects like science, math, and verbal skills. The article in this case was discussing how kids didn’t have any interest in these subjects either and weren’t interested in learning them.
So at least one of the things that the arts do is animate a school, making it more interesting for kids to be there. They provide kids with the opportunity to enjoy being in school and therefore better learn all the other subjects, too.
We have all kinds of studies that show that recidivism rates are down for children at risk when the arts are in those kids’ lives. Verbal skills and communication skills are up when the arts are in kids’ lives.
Ultimately, kids do better on their SATs if the arts are part of their education. And SAT scores are critical for getting into college. We’re seeing today that more and more kids who are getting into college are kids who have had a four-year arts curriculum in their school, too.
So, there are a lot of reasons for the arts to be in the lives of children both for their advancement and for a better school experience.
AMM: What is the future of the arts?
RL: The arts are here to stay even though we mostly hear bad stories about there not being enough funding. There is never enough funding. And it is about innovation. How do you get innovation? Well, sometimes you turn a thing on its head and ask questions in a different way. That’s one of the things that artists do well. I would say that is their primary function, to turn things on their head and see them in ways others don’t.
“Ultimately, kids do better on their SATs if the arts are part of their education.”
In 2005, Mr. Lynch oversaw the merger of the Arts and Business Council, Inc. into Americans for the Arts. In the same year he also created the Americans for the Arts Action Fund and its connected political action committee to engage citizens in advocating for the arts and arts education to ensure arts-friendly public policies. Under his 25 years of leadership, the services and membership of Americans for the Arts has grown to more than 50 times its original size in 1985. He has personally reached audiences in 49 states and 12 countries, ranging from Native American tribal gatherings to the U.S. Armed Forces in Europe and the President of the United States.
Mr. Lynch currently serves on the board of the Craft Emergency Relief Fund, the Arts Extension Institute, and the University of Massachusetts-Amherst College of Humanities and Fine Arts Board. He is a member of the Executive Committee for United Voices for Education and is on the Advisory Council of the National Museum for Children in the Arts. He earned a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Mr. Lynch plays the piano, mandolin, and guitar, and lives in Washington, DC.