Secretary of Commerce J. Keith Crisco's message this morning in Raleigh was: They aren't luxuries at all. The arts are an industry by themselves, he said, accounting directly for 164,000 jobs in North Carolina (2008 data) with a total economic impact of $41 billion a year. That compares, Crisco noted, to agriculture's economic impact of $70 billion — and agriculture is still North Carolina's No. 1 industry, so give the arts their due.
More than that, Crisco said, a vibrant arts and cultural milieu helps North Carolina retain other businesses and attract new ones, especially new ones in the creative sector. And nowadays, if your business isn't creative, it's in trouble: His own Asheboro company, which makes textile elastics ("Our mission: We keep your underwear from falling down."), sounds prosaic but nonetheless depends on constant innovation and invention to make its products better than the competition's.
Crisco was the featured speaker at a breakfast program, "State of Arts & Culture in Wake County," held at the N.C. Museum of Art and sponsored by the United Arts Council of Raleigh and Wake County.
The program was less a report on the state of affairs in the arts than it was a group pep talk about the importance of arts programming mixed with some awards presentations.
Crisco, who leads the state's business recruitment efforts, underlined the theme.
Innovative people have a choice of where to work and where to live. They pick places where the quality of life is high and cultural offerings are excellent, Crisco told the audience. Not only does he get it, he went on, "I work for a lady who gets it about the arts" — Gov. Bev Perdue. The three things he talks with the governor about are jobs, jobs and jobs, he said. "And the arts "fit right into that."
Crisco's best applause line today: "You can count on this Secretary of Commerce to back arts education in the schools."
A little later, he field a question from a woman worried that the Wake County Board of Education, facing a huge budget deficit of its own — and having just hired (she noted) an ex-military officer, Anthony Tata, as its new superintendent — may be fixing to slash arts education spending as a cost-saver.
"I'm worried too," Crisco said. But he cautioned against assuming that Tata, because he's ex-military, won't appreciate the value of the arts in the schools and in the community. Crisco said he has a friend, also ex-military, who went into education in Florida and was outspoken in support of arts and music courses. "It's very much a management job," Crisco said of the military's top brass, "and those guys tend to be very good managers."
In the small-world category, Crisco and Larry Wheeler, the N.C. Museum of Art director and impresario, turn out to be old buddies from college — Pfeiffer College (now Pfeiffer U.) in Misenheimer, N.C., to be specific.
In fact, Wheeler — a year ahead of Crisco — had a job in the dean's office working alongside a young woman named Jane in whom Crisco took an interest. Soon, the three were close pals. And the rest is history: Keith and Jane have been married 46 years. Crisco's been Secretary of Commerce for two years now, but today was the first time that Wheeler let him speak at the museum, Crisco cracked, "given what I know about him."
(Ellmers will take the cash, according to Politico, an online DC tip sheet. Duh.)
Opponents are calling Ellmers a hypocrite.
“I’m getting whiplash from the speed with which Ellmers has dropped her opposition to PACs," says Tom McMahon, executive director of the reform group Americans United for change. "Before her first day in office, she’s already to partying it up with anyone who’ll throw money her way. This speaks volumes about what she’ll do once she’s actually voting for legislation — she’s telling her constituents ‘you just got scammed’.”
"If there was ever any doubt before," said Kerra Bolton, the state Democratic Party's spokeswoman, "it should be abundantly clear now that Ellmers will be working in Congress to defend the Washington special interests and lobbyists, not the people of North Carolina.”
Kind of a harsh judgment, really. Isn't it just possible those "special interests" are giving Ellmers their $$$ because she's so passionate about opposing all special-interest legislation?
Oh, never mind.