Tuesday, January 15, 2013

"Arts Advocacy" by G. Allen

This article is from the November 2012 issue of KC Stage
"Art is a nation's most precious heritage. For it is in our works of art that we reveal to ourselves and to others the inner vision which guides us as a nation. And where there is no vision, the people perish." – Lyndon Johnson, on signing into existence the National Endowment on the Arts.

Advocacy is essential for continued government support of the arts, and it is most successful when those advocating can demonstrate how ordered and influential they are. Whether arts advocates contact their representatives directly, or work with the media to present a continual positive image of the arts to the public, arts advocacy is an essential ingredient of the effort to encourage funding and support from government at all levels.

During an interview in Kirkwood, Mo., GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney said, "... The subsidy for Amtrak, I'd eliminate that. The National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities." This inspired me to not only start actively trying to find a way to improve arts advocacy, but to delve deeper into what our politicians are saying, locally and nationally. Romney was not referring to an apocalyptic ending of the NEA or the NEH, but he was stating that he would cut the funding for them. Which in turn makes it our job - yeah, you and me - to build the capital while still trying to build our own houses for which to create.

There is a thought of government funding of anything involves government control. This thought leads me to some folk wisdom: "He who pays the piper calls the tune." There seems to be more of an argument to keep government out of “my” art than there is to keep it in when you Google arts advocacy. Sure, the advent of Kickstarter and other websites like it has made funding arts easier on a grassroots level. But it brings the thoughts of eliminating the governmental funding required for many organizations to the forefront of many a politician's mind, making arts advocacy a need rather than a pastime for the arts and arts supporters across the board. Let's not forget the cutting of Kansas arts funding completely in 2011 and how it crippled so many an artist/organization. As artists or supporters we should not only know what arts advocacy is, but how we can accomplish it.

There really is no clear cut win for arts advocacy. The war will continue to wage on the arts, but battles may be won and it's these that we need to focus on. So, why in today's economic state should we advocate for the arts? In Missouri, nonprofit arts and culture organizations generated over $1 billion in economic activity, and in Kansas just over $150 million. In Kansas alone, 37,000 jobs in the creative arts are supported; according to the Arts Council of Metropolitan Kansas City, arts and culture organizations produce $279 million in economic impact for the Kansas City metro region alone. This includes lodging, food, transportation, and many other non-arts organizations that benefit from a healthy arts scene. And this is just the numbers: the economic benefits of tourism and the support of local business by arts organizations purchasing goods and services and putting people to work (the arts employ artists, managers, marketers, technicians, teachers, designers, carpenters, and workers in a variety of trades and professions).

We know that we need to advocate for the arts ... but how? Write your legislators. Yes, that's a blanket comment on how to do it. But, it is just that simple. You can also go the extra mile. Contribute to the campaign that represents your view of how the arts should be supported by the state. If you have an arts organization, offer to the legislator to bring your event or exhibition to the capitol: this brings it to their doorstep. Offer art to cover their blank accessible beige colored walls to have an everyday reminder of how the arts are here and this puts it in their face on a minute to minute, day to day schedule.

There are many resources nationally and locally for arts advocacy. One such national organization is Americans for the Arts, whose mission is to serve, advance, and lead the network of organizations and individuals to cultivate, promote, sustain, and support the arts in America. With a huge online reputation and minimal membership fees, this organization, holding offices on the east coast primarily, focuses on cultivating all arts to all Americans.

The Arts Council of Metropolitan Kansas City is the local the powerhouse of advocacy for the arts. Their website, artskc.org, has a link to their complete advocacy plan. The arts council, lead by Harlan Brownlee, states in a letter on the advocacy page, "Our political leaders will listen to us, but only if we come to them unified and in multitudes. I am convinced of this and I ask you to deeply examine your own attitudes about the political process and join the Arts Council's advocacy efforts." I recommend attending the advocacy meetings at the arts council, as they are informative and a very good judge of who the artists in town that are fellow advocates, which can lead to more collaboration and further the arts in the city, bringing it full circle to advocating more arts funding.

Also, some great resources for arts advocacy locally are the Missouri and Kansas Citizens for the Arts websites (www.mo4arts.org and www.kansasarts.org respectively). Both sites have fantastic information such as talking points when speaking with legislators on arts support and funding.

Arts advocacy is indeed needed and growing in our community as well as across the nation. Contact any organization I've mentioned or write your local legislator today to advocate for the arts.

G. Allen is a writer and sometimes contributor to KC Stage and several blogs.

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