When I was 6 years old, a puppet theater company came to my school. As we sat on the floor of the gymnasium and the lights went down and the stage came to life, I fell in love. I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

This 6-year-old girl's dream came true, but I'm troubled when people don't understand the value of the arts for our community and for our children. The truth is, the arts do a lot for us. And they do a lot for Tucson.

The arts are an amazing economic driver in Arizona. There are more than 17,000 arts-related businesses in Arizona that employ more than 56,000 people and deliver arts experiences to 1.4 million young people. In addition, these businesses have an economic impact of more than half a billion dollars annually, according to data from the Arizona Commission on the Arts.

The arts also have a tremendous impact on children. Numerous research studies show that students involved in the arts are better at reading and math, and they have stronger social skills, improved motivation to learn and more esteem for themselves and their peers.

And the arts create civic pride. Most of us know about our large and wonderful cultural organizations - Arizona Theatre Company, Tucson Symphony Orchestra, Tucson Museum of Art, UApresents - that contribute significantly to the cultural life of Tucson.

Yet many arts groups remain some of Tucson's best-kept secrets. Art-If-Act, one of Tucson's most exciting new dance companies, has toured extensively throughout China; Sons of Orpheus, Tucson's Male Choir, sang throughout Italy last summer. The delightful Puppets Amongus just returned from the World Puppet Carnival in Kazakhstan. Last June, The Rogue Theatre was in residency in Bangalore, India, and recently won the American Theatre Wing (founder of the Tony Awards) National Theatre Company Award.

All of these organizations have small budgets, are fueled by hundreds of volunteers, and yet they are spreading great news about Tucson as our ambassadors throughout the country and the world.

Whenever I meet someone and tell them I work in the theater, I hear joyful stories of a play they once saw or a dance they once danced or an instrument they loved to play. Yes, the arts bring us joy, and they often offer us profound insights into our lives.

Last year, a patron of The Rogue Theatre wrote: "When we left the cultural life of New York to move to Tucson, I thought we were giving up that part of our life. We're so happy we found you."

Over time, new residents discover what many of us have come to love about Tucson - the rich, full arts scene. In fact, more and more, the arts are bringing people and businesses to Tucson.

So go see a play, stroll through a museum, attend a concert. Discover some of Tucson's best-kept secrets and know that you are contributing to the economic, intellectual and civic life of the community. Become a patron of the arts and be proud to live in Tucson.

Cynthia Meier is co-founder of The Rogue Theatre.