The Arts Thrive in Utah
Too often, when Utah gets rated on one of those national lists, the results are not particularly encouraging.
Yes, our elected officials like to brag about their good scores on public management and business-friendly environments. But Utah's ratings for more human and humane concerns — from school budgets to air quality — often suffer by comparison to, well, just about anywhere.
But a new list put together by the folks at the National Endowment for the Arts puts Utah at the top for the percentage of adults who take advantage of our state's large, varied and thriving arts scene. That's wonderful news, for a whole symphony of reasons.
The NEA numbers show that 51 percent of Utah adults have taken in a play, concert or dance performance in the past year. That's highest of any state, and well above the national rate of 31.6 percent. Add a trip to the movie theater to the definition of art, and the Utah rate of adult participation soars to 84.5 percent, compared to 66.2 percent for the country.
Likely reasons include that Utah has a young and generally well-educated population and a cultural history, from the original coming of the Mormon pioneers, of putting on plays and other forms of entertainment.
Such a good audience encourages the creation of more arts offerings, which leads to more people in the audience, and so on in a virtuous circle.
A healthy arts scene is, of course, good for the economy. Ticket-buyers, local governments and Utah's many philanthropists eagerly part with the money needed to support the arts, providing jobs and income. And a reputation as being a place with lots to do is a boost in the business-recruitment area, both for its own sake and as a way of overcoming Utah's reputation as a fly-over backwater.
Most important of all, even as it is not so easily quantifiable, is the fact that the performing and visual arts enrich us in so many indefinable ways.
At their best — or, sometimes, even at their mediocre — the arts take us outside of ourselves and let us see life through the eyes, the experiences, the joys and the sufferings of others.
That's always a good thing. And, as Utah rapidly becomes less culturally and ethnically uniform, the arts give each of us the best clue of what the world looks like to other people.
The curtain goes up. The barriers fall.