Manufacturing growth depends as much on the arts as sciences

There are those who see little practical value in art.

It is a luxury, they believe, like dessert for a society that still needs to eat its healthy food. Reading, writing and arithmetic should receive most of the education dollars. Art classes, if they’re funded at all, should make do with the pocket change.

And outside the public schools, taxes should never be used for anything remotely artistic. Stick to business, to creating qualified workers and other efforts that drive economic prosperity.

Or so the argument goes.

However, the argument doesn’t go very far in McMinnville. Here, art often drives industry, and industry often drives art. Doubters need look no further than some of the area’s most successful enterprises.

William Henry Knives takes utilitarian cutting tools and transforms them into intricate (and quite expensive) works of art sold throughout the world.

Similarly, Jon Basile would never be able to hand-craft doors and windows at his Alpine Avenue business if he never took woodworking beyond the level of his high school shop class.

Of course, progressive educators understand far more than sluggish and short-sighted public policymakers that the subject is called industrial arts for a reason.

Workforce development advocate Carr Biggerstaff, who works with schools through the Construct Foundation and Innovate Oregon, proselytizes for thinking beyond the science, technology, engineering and mathematics of STEM classes. He promotes STEAM to add art to the equation.

Thus, students learn not only how to make circuit boards, they create artfully designed robotics to blend the left brain of science with the right brain of creativity.

Many industrial jobs go unfilled because applicants lack even the most basic skills. Biggerstaff argues that learning to think creatively and artistically are essential ingredients for producing high school students who are properly prepared for the 21st-century workplace.

We agree. The industrial revolution is over. We simply cannot yearn it back into existence and expect Johnny or Jessica to graduate from high school and take their place at the local widget factory, performing the same repetitive task for the next 60 years.

Yamhill County proves that the future is creative. That’s where we need to invest our economic development efforts and other public resources.

We can no longer train young people for traditional factory jobs, sending them along an education conveyer belt to fill their heads with vocational knowledge like so much soda pop. They need to learn how to learn, how to change and adapt.

And that is definitely more an art than a science.


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