A dialogue between representatives of the arts and legislative communities as Arts & Humanities Month in Evanston winds to a close centered on arts as an economic engine, on arts education in schools and on health-care coverage for artists.

“There is about $15 million for the arts in the stimulus package,” Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky told the 20 persons who gathered at Boocoo for the conversation on Oct. 26. We know that more dollars are generated by arts organizations – museums, theatres, etc. – than by all our sports programs.”

She said, though, “When it comes to dollars, as much as we talk about it, [dollars] don’t follow what everyone knows to be true. Advocacy is needed.”

John Szostek, founder of Piccolo Theatre on Main Street, told the RoundTable some studies have shown that theatre patrons will spend as much as $17 per person in addition to the price of a ticket, when they attend cultural events. Penny Rotheiser, chair of the Arts and Business Committee of the Evanston Arts Council said she felt the Evanston business community was increasingly supportive of the arts community.

Mr. Szostek said, though, that the education community is not always so supportive of the arts. “There is a national mindset that the arts are superfluous,” he said, adding that arts programs in elementary schools are often cut so teachers will have time to spend on preparing students for standardized tests. “When educators are not as sensitive to the arts, kids grow up not so sensitive and do not have an appreciation of the arts,” he added.

Béa Rashid, founder of Dance Center Evanston and Evanston Dance Ensemble in Evanston Plaza, said she felt an increasing number of students were graduating from Evanston Township High School with an appreciation of the arts, particularly of music.

Both agreed that arts education not only enriched students but also created the next generation of audiences.

“Creativity, as you know, can not only bring a person out of despair, it can bring a country out of despair,” said Mr. Szostek.

Representative Schakowsky said she felt President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, “have made the arts ‘cool’ and more accessible to young people.”

She added, “The suppression of creativity in our society is something we don’t think about when we talk about health care, but [under some current thinking] you have to have a ‘real’ job to get health insurance.” She said she thought the health-care reform – which she said she believes will be passed soon by Congress – could treat not for-profit organizations the way it treats small businesses as far as availability for health-care-coverage exchanges and other access to health-care insurance.

Ms. Rashid she believed many artists, both individuals and in small organizations, struggled to get health-care coverage “We all know people who are afraid to go to the doctor [because of health-insurance fears],” she said.

Rep. Schakowsky said she hoped that the [proposed changes in health care would “help make a renaissance in the arts.”

Ms. Rotheiser said, “In this economy – this is when you really need the arts. The arts make us human.”

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...