I want to talk about this and open up an honest and respectful conversation with the Arts community: the now infamous Wells Fargo ad that’s got the creative world hopping with anger. The ad came to my attention in the first few days of September 2016.
As you can see, the “A ballerina yesterday. An engineer today…” and “An actor yesterday. A botanist today…” pieces show students excelling in the sciences. As part of a Teen Day program, Wells Fargo thought these were perfectly great instances of how how students may grow into the next levels of their lives and careers. Kind of like, “Start here. Go there. We’ll help you.”
The internet is crazy with backlash because no ad features students choosing their futures in something creative. Many in the arts take offense to a subtle underlying message. Some believe that Wells Fargo is saying that dancing or acting is fine for high school, but that STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) subjects are a more lucrative or professional future choice.
With the general cut in funding to many arts organizations, and with the continued push for more focus on STEM subjects in school (at the peril of many arts programs), it is easy to understand why this ad comes off as just another slight to the hard working and talented people in the arts industry. Knowing this, though, I’d like to offer another spin: that this is a red flag about why we need to keep the conversation about Arts Education going. We need more public understand about Arts Education in our schools, and about the Arts in our regular lives.
I’m not saying what Wells Fargo did or did not intend. I’m saying let’s use this unfortunate public relations event to bring attention to the fact that the arts are important, and that they prepare students of any age to excel in many things in life (whatever those things are).
Could Wells Fargo have done this ad better? Or could they have been more inclusive? Yes. A hearty yes.
Many studies show that those trained in the arts are uniquely prepared to succeed at whatever they pursue – be it the arts, or in another field like the sciences. Multi-tiered people with complex abilities make the best citizens. Artists can ALSO be great scientists, and vice versa. Personally, I choose the arts as a job, while others start in the arts and get an amazing prep for life in another field – neither are wrong.
I have the privilege of knowing a kick-butt scientist chick who’s a college professor and researcher – Dr. Jeanette Ferguson (originally of the Pohorence line) was a percussionist and actor in high school. We did musicals together in college. She now looks for cures to things like cancer and heart disease. She also sings the national anthem at sporting events on the side. This fierce woman is living proof that the arts and science can not only co-exist, but that they DO and that they thrive hand-in-hand. To her I throw out a hearty “O-H!” (Sing it back to me, sister).
Avid inventor and U.S. Founding Father Benjamin Franklin (d. 1790) was also an author who played music. Renaissance superhero Leonardo da Vinci (d. 1519) not only excelled at many art forms, but was also a math and engineering whiz. More recently, astrophysicist Saul Perlmutter won a Nobel Prize in Physics (2011) and is also known as an accomplished violinist.
Could Wells Fargo have done this ad better? Or could they have been more inclusive? Yes. A hearty yes. Should those of us in the field be frustrated when our work is marginalized? HECK yes! Do I think the Wells Fargo slight is intentional? No.
But this is the conversation that is open now. So while this Wells Fargo ad is definitely controversial, it’s also keeping an important topic in the spotlight – the importance and survival of the arts. Cheers to the designers, artists, copy writers and printers who brought that ad to life. Let’s continue to talk. I hope you’ll give some feedback in the comment section! And please be respectful.
Want some more info on just a few of these arts studies? Check out these links:
1) 10 Salient Studies on the Arts in Education
2) New NEA Research Report Shows Potential Benefits of Arts Education for At-Risk Youth
3) How the Arts Benefit Student Achievement