Give the gift of the arts this Christmas

By: By James Bass - Contributing Columnist
James Bass

One year for Christmas, my in-laws surprised my wife and me with tickets to see Blue Man Group in Orlando while we were on vacation. We were ecstatic. A few years later, I returned the favor by getting them tickets to see one of their favorites, Pat Boone, in a Christmas show. Both times, memories were made and good times were enjoyed.

You’ve probably completed your holiday gift shopping by now … or maybe you haven’t. If you’re still looking, allow me to make a suggestion — give the gift of the arts.

I’ve heard it said that the best gifts are not things, rather they are experiences and memories. Art satisfies both, and it’s the gift that keeps on giving — personally and economically. Whether you give tickets to a performance, gift certificates to a theatre, a painting or a book, an arts experience can have a profound effect on the person receiving the gift.

Art is fun. Art is exciting. Art is a communal experience. Art brings joy. And art brings many intangible benefits.

A 2014 study published in the online publication Education Next looked at visiting museums and live theatre performances and found that there is a real benefit in both, including increased vocabulary, greater tolerance, historical empathy, enhanced knowledge of storylines and improved ability to read emotions. The researchers added that, in the case of live theatre, these effects were not something one could easily get by reading the play or watching a movie of the play; they were only achieved by experiencing the play.

The same report found that students who visited museums and art galleries paid attention to the details in paintings and had a better grasp of details in everyday life situations. Those students also learned facts and information in a uniquely different way that they might not have learned from a book or lecture. It also helps students to link information they’ve already learned to new information.

From an educational perspective, students enjoy a variety of outcomes from arts exposure. They learn academic content, increase their tolerance of diverse cultures and form critical thinking skills that are not always easily learned in the classroom. An added benefit is that young people are more likely to be cultural consumers in the future — meaning they are more inclined to attend symphonies, collect art, attend the theatre and spend money at each.

A Washington Post article in 2014, “Top 10 Skills Children Learn From The Arts,” listed such benefits of the arts as confidence, problem-solving skills, creativity, focus and collaboration. Coincidentally, an article in Forbes that same year listed many of the same benefits in an article entitled “The 10 Skills Employers Most Want in 2015 Graduates.” Further, a 2012 report by the National Endowment for the Arts suggested that there are correlations between arts involvement, higher academic achievement and job attainment.

Engagement in the arts has higher rewards for economically disadvantaged children, and the research published in Education Next’s article found proof. Children in their study made significant improvement in critical thinking, tolerance and likelihood to become art consumers over their peers in a control group. Economically disadvantaged families cannot always make the investments in their children’s exposure to arts. But schools can provide these gifts. So can churches, civic groups and other organizations.

In a recent study by Americans for the Arts, 87 percent of participants said they believe the arts are important for quality of life. Making arts opportunities available for young people is an investment in the local community, not just for individuals. The gift of the arts goes even further in communities, especially in Robeson County, where there are multiple opportunities for engagement, including theatres, museums and special events. I’m not sure a price tag can be placed on the value of engaging young people and providing them with experiences that will enrich their lives.

Acts 20:35 in The Bible says that “it is more blessed to give than to receive,” but the beauty of giving the gift of the arts is that this gift is returned and re-distributed. When we invest in arts exposure for children, we are enhancing their lives, making them richer. That gift pays dividends in a person who grows an appreciation for the arts and shares the gift. The money spent on a ticket to a show, a painting, a concert or an art project gets distributed in ways that touch many lives.

James Bass Bass

By James Bass

Contributing Columnist

James Bass is the executive director of Givens Performing Arts Center at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke. He may be reached at:

James Bass is the executive director of Givens Performing Arts Center at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke. He may be reached at: