Adequate funding for the arts

by Chris Reichert

With Gonzaga University’s famous basketball teams in the spotlight every school year, we often overlook the school’s phenomenal arts programs. Sometimes I think the university does as well. As a musician growing up in Spokane, I’ve always thought Gonzaga’s priorities were a little…misguided. To put it lightly, the university seems to place a far greater emphasis on sports than on the arts, especially compared to Whitworth. Exactly how much higher is hard to say – Gonzaga lists athletics on its budget while Whitworth does not, and neither university considers music or the arts separate from academics.

While it was amusing to note that Gonzaga’s annual athletics expenditure of roughly $13.5 million is nearly 1/5 of Whitworth’s entire spending budget, according to the schools’ websites this didn’t really help, since there’s nothing to compare it to. But my own feelings on Gonzaga’s spending aside, great things are happening amidst our Jesuit neighbors, and I think we must commend the University’s new efforts to improve music education in Spokane.

This spring, work started on the brand new Myrtle Woldson Performing Arts Center. In 2014, Spokane philanthropist Myrtle Woldson bequeathed $55 million to the university for the long-awaited construction of a new (or some would say “real”) music building, but after years of seeming inaction many in the community, myself included, wondered if the project would ever see fruition.

Indeed, the more cynical amongst Spokane musicians noted with keen interest that construction on the new Volkar Center for Athletic Achievement had conveniently begun around that same time. Was Gonzaga showing yet again that sports took a priority? But our doubts are now assuaged and we can see clearly the answer is no. Looking at the artist renderings, I’m forced to admit that Gonzaga’s new music center is probably going to be spectacular.

I’d like to think that Whitworth’s own Cowles Music Center renovation may have spurred Gonzaga on a bit, prompting them to plan and dream even bigger in their never-ending quest to outdo us, but…I rather doubt it. Hey, let me dream at least. Either way, with The Spokesman-Review reporting Gonzaga’s project to cost $23 million more than Whitworth’s, it promises to be quite an addition to their campus.

Both Whitworth’s and Gonzaga’s newly reaffirmed commitment to superlative music education is a refreshing gesture amidst the tides of a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) oriented culture, and may reflect a changing trend in our society. As of 2014, National Public Radio reported that the number of art and performance majors steadily rose 2% from 1985 to 2005. More good news for music students comes from the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, which reports that experienced graduates with a bachelor’s in music actually show below average unemployment at 4.5%.

Perhaps music is finally being given the academic credit it deserves. Either way, this could well be the first rumblings that Gonzaga is ready to rise off of its athletic laurels, and demonstrate once and for all that it takes music as seriously as its students do.

Contact Chris Reichert at