For most Kirkus readers—and for any literature and humanities scholar—the answer to the above question is obvious: Absolute† However, it seems our leaders at all levels, from federal to local, don’t necessarily agree, as art funding is often the first thing to cut during budget cuts, especially during the pandemic.

This month, New York University Press is publishing a book to bolster arguments about the need for art and arts education: Are the arts essential? (February 22), edited by Alberta Arthurs, a senior fellow at the John Brademas Center at NYU, and Michael DiNiscia, a deputy director for Research and Strategic Initiatives at the Center. In a one-star review, our critic called the book “a vigorous, timely, necessary defense of creativity,” in which “the editors represent a racially, ethnically, and culturally diverse group of more than two dozen eminent scholars, artists, professionals working in the field of arts and culture, and financiers who support the arts.”

Like many comparable defenses of literature, the visual arts, music, dance, and theater, the contributors to Are the arts essential? all “firmly advocate the importance of art in strengthening social bonds, benefiting individuals, advancing community, engaging the sciences, and recording and sharing human experiences.” What makes this one stand out is its list of contributors, which includes scientists and artists who will be unfamiliar to many general readers. Aside from K. Anthony Appiah, Edward Hirsch, and Deborah Willis, there are few names in bold.

Of course, those scientists provide sharp analysis, but we also get a refreshing dose of persuasive, persuasive discourses from many esteemed but not widely known professors, as well as Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation; Elizabeth Streb, a choreographer and dance teacher who often performs “extreme action”; Jesse Rosen, the former president of the League of American Orchestras; Jeffrey Brown, senior art correspondent for PBS News Hour† psychologist Ellen Winner; and Fred Hersch, an acclaimed jazz pianist and composer who has served as leader or co-leader on more than 50 albums and received 15 Grammy nominations.

Clearly, the editors challenged themselves to construct as inclusive a portrait as possible, all in the service of getting artists of all stripes to attend what editor Arthurs describes as “all the places where our values ​​and our ways of life are explored, where common decisions are made, where issues and ideas and laws are mapped and put forward.” In the foreword, Lynne P. Brown, the executive director of the Brademas Center, echoes that sentiment, noting how the contributors, “although they sing in different keys and octaves depending on their unique perspectives… form a chorus of conviction. “

At times, the book may be overly academic for those not committed to the advancement of the arts — chapter titles include “City as Living Laboratory: Creating a New Narrative for Climate Change and the Public Realm”; “Leading Institutional Change: Rethinking Mission, Values ​​and Purpose”; ‘Art in theory: an insight from Marcel Duchamp’, but it is nevertheless topical and relevant. As Hersch points out, “I don’t consider a concert or a composition a success until I feel like I’ve moved someone. Maybe it’s just one person in an audience. Not that it should all be overwrought, emotional or manipulative… You want to have some fun moments, some things that are challenging, some things that are more intense, maybe even romantic… In the end I don’t want that. go to a music performance and walk away if you’re impressed. I want to be stimulated, and I want to be moved.” Not all of us?

Eric Liebetrau is the non-fiction and editor-in-chief