Preston Haskell: On the Importance of the Arts

A great city is characterized by many attributes, including a thriving downtown, superior roads and transportation, beautiful parks and neighborhoods, and high quality educational institutions. But of equal importance is a high level of commitment to arts and culture.
The arts are a vital part of human experience, and an environment which is rich with cultural activities affects a community’s quality of life in ways that no other characteristics can. Arts and culture stimulate the human mind and spirit, making us more imaginative and creative, more open to discovery and critical thinking, and more appreciative of the history and legacies of mankind. Art is a necessity, not a luxury, as essential to the human mind and spirit as food, clothing and shelter.
Visual and performing arts are also sources of sheer pleasure. Museums, theater, music, dance, and art collections provide citizens and visitors with opportunities, both passive and active, for enjoyment, stimulation, and interaction with others. Cities with strong cultural institutions and activities become destinations for visitors, and places where existing businesses thrive and expand and new businesses are attracted to.
And businesses play an invaluable role in maintaining, expanding and improving the arts environment of their communities. But businesses must assume an even larger role than they have in the past. The modern corporation is an institution with strong social responsibilities, including supporting arts and culture throughout the communities in which it does business and where its employees live.
And there are more direct benefits to businesses which are actively involved with the arts. Such involvement enhances the corporate image, creates a stimulating and inspiring environment for employees, and brands the company’s culture and products. It is often an instrument for attracting and retaining sought-after employees.
Here in Jacksonville, many companies have realized the importance of supporting arts and cultural institutions in a significant fashion, and others are increasingly stepping up to the plate. Our schools and colleges, our United Way, our hospitals and health care institutions, and our social services organizations could not exist without the voluntary support of the business community. The same is true of our symphony orchestra, our two fine arts museums, our theater companies, our ballet company, and many others.
Corporate art collections are yet another – and growing – way of enhancing the arts environment, enriching and enlivening walls and spaces for employees and visitors. In my own company, we have articulated our reasons for collecting and displaying art, in part, as follows:
• Art stimulates and energizes the human mind and spirit, making us more imaginative and creative. This is particularly appropriate in our business: we deal in designs, ideas, and concepts, many of which are novel or original.
• Artwork sends a strong message to visitors and external constituents that we value aesthetics and creativity as an important part of our culture and in the execution of creative projects.
Thus art in the corporate environment makes our offices special places in which to work and do business. It is a stimulus to the many creative minds that constitute our company’s most valuable asset. It strengthens external perceptions of the importance we place upon beauty and creativity.
In summary, I believe that the Jacksonville arts community is a strong one. It complements our many other attributes, including our natural assets of climate, beaches and river; our strong business community; our consolidated government; our parks and recreational resources, including an NFL football team; our comprehensive institutions of postsecondary education; and our growing national reputation as a center for health care.
None of this would be possible without enlightened and generous corporate support of our non-profit institutions, particularly those in the visual and performing arts. But we can and must do even better. It is my hope that, by understanding the benefits which flow to the community generally, and to one’s business interests specifically, that we can continue our trajectory of support for arts and culture in our city, making it even more recognized and admired as one of the most attractive, enjoyable and prosperous cities of our country.

Author: Arbus

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