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Akst: A new resolution for 2013

Published: Friday, Dec. 28, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT

What was initially an impulse buy became an epiphany, a resolution and a column.

We were in Costco. Our main TV was bought to celebrate a new job in 1996, so my wonderful spouse and I decided a big flat-screen would be a great Christmas gift to each other.

The choices and cost were overwhelming, so we wandered around to mull things over. About 5 minutes and 2 aisles later, we realized that what our family really needs is … More music, so we bought an electronic piano (88 weighted keys, just like a “real” piano).

My wife and I both come from music-loving families, and we want our son to love music, too. Because music – indeed, any art form – is one of the best things about life. It’s well settled that the arts have extraordinary benefits for learning, wellness and culture (which is why, in a struggling economy, the arts are always the first curricular victims of school budget cutting).

Also, the keyboard was about $150 cheaper than the TVs we were considering.

My most recent music instruction was half a year of guitar in seventh grade – one could still see pterodactyls in those days – but I can’t wait to broaden my artistic horizons. Even if I don’t get much past “Chopsticks,” the idea that I’m going to learn to play a musical instrument brings a brighter outlook for the new year than anything has in a while.

Each December, I reaffirm legitimate but tired goals: Get in shape; manage finances; organize. I then fail anywhere from moderately to spectacularly, but I’ll keep trying because doing the same things over and over eventually yields different results.

Meanwhile, a fresh, different goal seems … fresh and different.

So my best advice for joy in 2013 is to invest 5 percent more resources in some kind of art (music, drawing, photography, theater … the list goes on). You might have to do with less TVs, fewer lattes, and more meals at home, but it’s worth it.

Why? Kurt Vonnegut, one of the most profound American artists ever, explains it best.

“Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake,” he said. “Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”

It’s an investment in you, and who deserves it more?

But speaking of investment, consider this 2012 economic data from “Arts & Economic Prosperity IV,” a national study from Americans for the Arts:

• The arts generate $135.2 billion of annual economic activity ($61.1 billion by nonprofit arts and culture organizations, and $74.1 billion in event-related expenditures by their audiences).

• This economic activity supports 4.13 million full-time jobs and generates $86.7 billion in household income.

• The arts generate $22.3 billion in revenue to local, state, and federal governments every year.

• Attendance at arts events generates income for local businesses – restaurants, parking garages, hotels, retail stores. An average arts attendee spends $24.60 an event besides admission.

As you begin, you likely will find that artistry is more difficult than you imagined, which brings us to the insidious part of this column (Mwa ha ha ha ha!).

My sister-in-law in New Jersey teaches voice lessons. Her husband runs a community theater. We recently saw a great production of “Scrooge: The Musical” at the Steel Beam Theatre in St. Charles.

The talented people who weave the artistic fabric of America are everyday people who pursue art in addition to carving out a living. These are people we should celebrate, support and stop taking for granted.

• Jason Akst teaches journalism and public relations at Northern Illinois University. Contact him at jasondakst@gmail.com.

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