Instilling Innovation: An Economic Defense of Arts and Crafts

In a new study, Rex LaMore and a group of colleagues from Michigan State University examine the artistic experiences of many scientific and technological innovators. They begin with an observation: while there is abundant research on the importance of local arts scenes in spurring economic development, there is a dearth of research investigating how arts education and training can foster one’s ability to innovate – which the authors refer to as “creative capacity” – in an economically significant way.

Aiming to correct this imbalance, this study examines the impacts of childhood exposure to the arts on eventual professional innovation in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The authors analyze the creative capacities of science and technology graduates from the Michigan State University Honors College between the years of 1990 and 1995, using factors such as number of patents obtained and number of new companies formed as markers of empirical measurement.

Their findings are twofold. First, they determine that both childhood and lifelong arts and crafts exposure correlate with increased levels of scientific or technological innovation. Second, they find that STEM professionals participate in arts and crafts much more often than does the average American, with the most entrepreneurial individuals participating at even higher rates than the others. Thus the authors conclude that childhood arts and crafts participation, as well as sustained participation throughout one’s life, may very well help to cultivate one’s creative capacity, positioning him or her to stimulate economic growth via scientific and technological innovation. (As they breezily summarize, “STEM + Arts and Crafts = Innovators —> Jobs”!)

Based on this conclusion, the authors recommend that, in order to set the United States back onto a path toward economic resilience, those with STEM proclivities be granted sustained opportunities for exposure to arts and crafts education and training. In a time of restrictive budget cuts, the authors propose that education administrators and government officials make more room for the arts in school curricula and community programming.

LaMore, Rex, et al. 2013. "Arts and Crafts: Critical to Economic Innovation." Economic Development Quarterly 27(3): 221-229. doi: 10.1177/0891242413486186

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